Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Early Autumn of Honey BooBoo

September is a special month. It starts in summer, with the heat still mostly there but the lights lowered. I need to hang on to the heat, with old memories of cold, poor winters in the Connecticut Valley driving me to near panic. The lowering light gets more and more lovely and suddenly, it gets cool. There are smells, and flowers, and birds. For the last 10,000 years or so, there has been the harvest.

The harvest is mythically important. After the harvest comes death , which is also sort of a key fact. So we have a big honking connection to nature.

So. I'm getting all mythic about a really great time of year when I spend a dark evening in front of the retina of the mind's eye & notice that a typical Wednesday night of crappy TV has the show we've all heard about - Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  "Yeeeeearrrrrrrghhh!!!!" seems woefully insufficient. It's a window on the life of the 47%.

Please, please, please close it quickly. Although you have to admit that the picture of Bill Clinton looking down on them in horror & empathy is a nice touch, this show is a test that the rest of us will fail like a Wasserman on Jersey Shore.

What to do? Get out of the house, of course. Even in the heart of the Big City there's stuff growing and ripening everywhere. This year, particularly. Last year was horribly wet in the east, and even the apple crop, about the last thing still grown commerically around here, was soggy & awful. This year, in the record smashing heat*, rain came at oddly convenient intervals and things stayed nicely green. (Yes, I'm fully aware of the horror that burned down west of the Appalachians - more on that often here) 
From the relative comfort of the lesser depression we look at the higher dignity of the Great Depression and remember the main difference : yields.
Nowadays, farms yield about 160 bushels (9600 lbs) per acre in good years, 120 in years like this.  Given a few more years like 2012, the product of global warming & a jet stream keeping the cold there was off North America, there will be starvation. The lazy prediction today was pointless hunger deaths rising from 5 to 6 million a year, but what does that mean? Nothing.

The real question is: Have we put a serious hit on Mother Nature?

The real answer is : Hell, yes. These outsize yields won't last long. Long term carrying capacity of humans on this planet is almost surely under 2 billion souls. The other 5 billion of us are living on the heritage of fossil fuels & minerals deposited over hundreds of millions of years. Once it's gone, or even significantly harder to get at, we're all in deep pain. All I can say? Give thanks to Demeter & Persephone.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Soylent Green is People, My Friend

I'm sure you all remember the post of September 10, which pondered the possible sales tax and other options that might be hiding in Republican tax policy.

This is the gritty bit, based on the Romney website tax issues page.

It's got the Big Lie :

However, the reality is that before President Obama exploded the size of the federal government, our existing tax rates were more or less adequate to pay for the government we needed.

The deficit for FY 2009 was $1.3 trillion. There has been no explosion in the size of the federal government. This stuff is total bull, right there for everyone to see.

After, the Big Lie, not much.

Lets consider the entirety of the individual tax plan:
America’s individual tax code applies relatively high marginal tax rates on a narrow tax base. Those high rates discourage work and entrepreneurship, as well as savings and investment. With 54 percent of private sector workers employed outside of corporations, individual rates also define the incentives for job-creating businesses. Lower marginal tax rates secure for all Americans the economic gains from tax reform.

•Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
•Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
•Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
•Eliminate the Death Tax
•Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)*
This is about a 25% tax cut. How is it paid for? Damnfino. The only thing in there even hinting at holding onto revenue is "narrow tax base". Sounds like a plan to get more people to pay income taxes. Maybe cut the standard deduction, make Social Security 100% taxable, even tax medical benefits? Probably wipe out the child & earned income credits - gotta hit the moochers. Your guess can't be too wild - because this plan is insane.

How will it be enacted? All revenue bills originate (except when they don't) in the House of Representives, currently run by poop flinging monkeys.

Later on the tax issues page, there's also a link to something by the unspeakably vile Scott McNealy. Scott has a unique place in industrial history. Around 2000, Sun Microsystems was reporting a billion dollars a year in net income, & paying no dividends. Every year, the balance sheet managed to get a bit worse, and Scott McNealy got a lot richer. Now he's at Oracle, as well as plugging for Romney. Anyone with the stomach to click through & read McNealy, you have been warned.

*Romney owed AMT of $232,989 in 2010 & $674,512 in 2011. AMT isn't common at his income level unless (1) almost all of the income is dividends and capital gains & (2) there are substantial miscellaneous itemized deductions, i.e - he's living off investments & paying management fees of a million bucks a year. Part of the reason 2011 was higher was state income taxes. Romney has not released his state returns. The PWC description of them is particularly weird:
""Effective state personal income tax rate" is computed as total state taxes reported as a deduction divided by adjusted gross income as shown on the federal income tax returns as prepared during the period"

I still haven't figured out the timing of this, but it does explain the 8.36% rate in a state (if he was a Massachusetts resident) where the rate has stayed below 6%.

In 2011 he paid $1,327,031 & had refunds of (352,905)
In 2010 he paid $672,444 & had refunds of (826,064)
Thus in PWCspeak he paid $1,999,475 over 2 years but the net was only $820,506.

And yes, the 2010 figures are weird. Something happened in 2008/2009, and it seems to have caught him by surprise.  Whatever it is, he doesn't want us to know. Does he just not want us to know that the crash hit him like everybody else? There are way too many possibilities, way too little time to guess.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Psst! You. Yes, you. They hate you.

Let's roll the tape from behind the curtain once again:

These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about "tax cuts for the rich". That's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people.
I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives.
That we've allowed a country where two people, working full time at the kind of jobs that you can get without a fancy degree, $10-15/hour, raising 2 kids will be barely getting by at about $50,000 year is bad enough. Now, it's time to hate on them because they don't happen to pay federal income tax. It's all about hate. Doesn't stop at half the country. You know if you're one of the obvious candidates : Black, Latino, Asian, Atheist, or (worst of all: Shudder) Female.

So, who else should they hate?

How about a guy from a family semi-rich on government contracts. He lazes through a second rate school, uses family connections to get a series of propaganda jobs as a hanger on in DC, marries a rich tax lawyer, then goes on the public payroll for the rest of his life lying all the way.

Sure, hate on Paul Ryan.
So, does this mean they hate themselves?

Religious hypocrites, closeted gays, fetishists? When you're running a conspiracy, it works better if everybody has a shame. Keeps them in line.

And what do you get when you work hard, follow the rules and polish up the handle so carefully?

This is not something that working people have forgotten, no matter how many times they've been told to. Time to change the rules. How do you fight hate?

If that doesn't work, knee to the nuts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

20,000 viejas espectacular

At 6:49 pm, EDT today, this blog had its 20,000th pageview. Of course, BigTime blogs get that before breakfast. Please don't chortle. I started small, and darn it, intend to stay there.
I'd  like to thank those who helped most - Susan of Texas, Crooks & Liars; and most of all, Kate Beckinsale's Butt Implants.

And, as always at a milestone meterstick, time to return to the core mission: Attempting to bring down the absurd cost of a University Education before I get stuck paying for one.

Which in this case, sadly means having to deal with Megan McArdle. Oddly enough she states a lot of obvious truths. College is wasteful, and getting more expensive. Credentials have no inherent value. We graduate way too many lawyers.

So, simply because it's McArdle, does that mean it's rubbish? Of course it does!

First, to state the bleeding obvious - is going to work in a coal mine at 18 how you want to spend your life? Isn't there value in taking a couple years to get perspective and have a little fun?

Second - Blaming the victim!

Eighteen-year-olds demand amenities—high-speed Internet, well-upholstered classrooms, world-class fitness facilities—and in order to stay competitive, college administrators happily provide them. Then they raise the tuition for which the 18-year-olds are obediently borrowing the money.

Yes! Administrators pay themselves 6 & 7 figure salaries because The Kids Demand It!

Third - Why do people without degrees do so poorly?

Because entitled bozos like McArdle make sure that the Lower Orders are prevented from banding together and claiming a decent wage commensurate with their contribution.
And the chance of really doing well without a degree remains near zilch:

Alas, this is more important than any of that:

China is running on coal. Either they hit the wall soon, or global warming gets Sofa King out of control we go into cannibal meltdown.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Living my life in a slow hell

Once upon a time country videos were watchable. Back in the day, singers could write their own songs, and sing in an accent that suggested an IQ over 70. That was stamped out, and now, well, damn you corporate dweebs, get offa my lawn!

A gimmick duet from about 11 years ago was Picture.

Obviously, KR is just bragging about a different girl every night. But it does raise the question : Who spends time at a motel?

I love mid-range motels. Especially breakfast. People from all over the damn place, moving slowly & politely, figuring out how to make waffles,  which pastries are worth a shot, and whether to make a fruit bowl or just grab an orange. True, the cable TV on the side gets more relentlessly stupid & reactionary every year, but nobody is watching.

Motel locations are generally pretty easy to understand. Either they're on the highway or by the airport. The fancy hotels & flophouses in Teh Big City aren't really the same thing, no?

So, today I found a mystery. The Malden Econolodge is the Admiral Stockdale of motels. Why is it there, when there is no there there?

The picture suggests an empty field in Ohio, but really, it's tightly embedded in a dense, mixed race working class neighborhood. The nearest interstate is 15 minutes away in good traffic. Even Route 1 is over a mile, and 10 minutes with good luck. What justification is offered?

The Econo Lodge® hotel is conveniently located just seven miles from the Boston Logan International Airport. This Malden hotel is only minutes from the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston), Tufts University, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Northeastern University and Harvard University.

Additional nearby points of interest include:
•Boston University

•Boston College

•Boston Inner Harbor

•Nantasket Beach Reservation

•Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team

The John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center is just a quick trip away. A wide variety of restaurants and several shops are within two miles of the hotel.

Most of that stuff is30-60 minutes away, with plenty of closer options. The nearby stores are convenience stores and tiny neighborhood spots. There is no obvious reason anyone would stay at a motel in east Malden.

Yet, there it is. The picture doesn't lie. It's new looking, fresh and well maintained, at least on the outside. $100 a night for a queen bed room.

I have no idea who built this motel or why. Maybe for visiting relatives.
The reviews are pretty interesting:

.“Inexpensive...and you get what you pay for”

The non-smoking rooms the point that we asked for different rooms. We had to ask for the manager as the desk clerk was unwilling to admit that there were other rooms available. The new rooms were satisfactory. The breakfast area was tiny. But they did have a simple breakfast available.

front desk check in was more concerned about watching the television then checking me in. It took her 3 tries to get me checked in. Lots of noise heard from other rooms.

Never been to a hotel where the front desk is behind bulletproof glass before - and don't plan to go again. Located far away from everything, the walls are paper thin, so you can be part of your neighbor's activities.

We had a late check-in 12pm and I had to wait several minutes before being checked-in. The room smelled of smoke and we requested a non smoking room,the air-conditioner was mounted on the wall near the ceiling and it dripped all night into plastic trash cans.It was noisy and the outside lighting lit-up the room.

OK, maybe they do need to hire a new staff.

They don't work cheap, but they damn well keep the joint clean.

Monday, September 10, 2012


There are 2 kinds of tax bill: Those that think there are 2 kinds...

Sorry, that joke doesn't work here. But there are major overhauls & tinkering with rates. The last overhaul, 1986, fondly remembered as the "Tax Accountants Full Employment Act", has reached a level of complexity that was unimaginable in the era where many returns were done with a pencil.

For the last 10 years or so it's been obvious that we need to clean things up. Even the basic outline has been pretty clear. Consolidate the retirement & education incentives. Simplify credits. Eliminate AMT, but cut out some of the stuff that makes it necessary. Reduce gaming by tying corporate tax to financial statement income. Give the IRS an easier way to handle transfer pricing.

It hasn't happened.  We've had tinker after tinker.

The reason is pretty fundamental : The Republican Party has officialy endorsed magical thinking with respect to taxes. No tax that calls for payment from the rich can ever be supported.
So, what happens when one party refuses to even consider responsible tax policy?


Instead, we get an ever growing army of provisions renewed from year to year. Educational deductions & credits are probably the worst. Cleaning them up & making them permanent might not help our mission*, but it couldn't hurt.

How can you raise revenue when you rule out raising it where there's revenue to be raised?
You can fake it - which has been the official party policy for 32 years now. Pretend that cutting rates will raise revenues. The result has been deficits, every time, and 4 recessions.   Starting from a trillion dollar deficit, this might not be the greatest idea ever.

Door number 2 is to try a different kind of tax. Since wealth is even more unequally distributed than income, it has to be a transaction tax. Constitutionally, this is easy. Article 1, section 8 begins:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

This stuff used to fund the entire government. Now, about 4%. There's a lot of reasons for that. One is the encouragement of consumption in the 20th century. Encouraging consumption has become a core Conservative value. Along with crushing wages, this would appear to present a conflict.

Door #3 resolves all conflicts : You take it in trade. Debtors prisons are making a comeback. Forced labor, community service, welfare work requirements.

Yes, this is as ugly as it sounds, which is why it's still basically silent. Put your head down, and hear the train a coming. "46% pay no tax" "Skin in the game"

Lights out.
*This blog** is dedicated to ending tuition increases, chiefly by fighting administrative bloat at Universities.

**Charlie Pierce has abandoned the phrase "this blog", so it's mine now. Neener neener.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Thursday, September 06, 2012

2 Testaments, 1 Meathead

With all the GOD bothering at the Conventions this year, there seems to be little attention paid to what GOD they're bothering.

The first thing you realize when you start to pay attention to the Bible (you remember, the week you accidentally stayed awake in Sunday School) is that it is 2 completely different books. Somewhere between the Old & New Testaments, GOD had a deepthink & rolled out a completely different program.

The Old, the version of Tampa, was an angry paternal GOD concerned with enforcing obedience from his people.  His people strove in extremely weird & violent ways. One of my favorite books is Jonah. Jonah was sent to preach in Ninev
ah. Oddly enough, he was a big hit, everyone repented, and GOD spared the place.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

From there it gets sillier. Jonah wanted people to suffer, Darn it to Heck!

This basic story, repeated many times, usually with GOD wreaking destruction, is the recurring theme.

Most of us are more familiar with GOD II : Queen of the Dance. She's the one the Nuns brought to Charlotte, with a simple message:

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Which is pretty much how I see things now. Of course, there's a third player : Reality. Reality will sweep away whatever we do pretty quickly, but for now, consider the Book of Lear. When Archie Bunker explained that there was conspiracy among the women, Jews, Hippies, unions, atheists, blacks & Mexicans to take over the country, Mike got his only good line of the series : Arch, they ARE the country.