Archive for the ‘Deteriorata’ Category
If you haven’t read WC’s earlier post on the feral cat issue, you’ll want to do so before reading further.
WC got more overwrought email on this post than on any issue since the Palinistas took umbrage at WC’s review of her “autobiography.”
National Audubon Society President David Yarnold has posted a blog piece announcing writer Ted Williams’s column in their magazine will be reinstated. Mr. Yarnold’s piece suffers from dizzying PR spin and the kind of statements that make a thinking reader laugh out loud. There’s this gem, for example:
I recognize the suspension of Ted’s column caused a fair amount of consternation among some of Audubon’s most loyal supporters. Understandably, some of that concern came from admiration for Ted.
May WC translate this for you? “Our major donors were outraged.”
WC was sufficiently annoyed to post a comment in response, which is set out here in full. WC has added links for your convenience.
Oh, please, spare me.
Audubon overreacted to the cat crazies’ distorted reading of Ted Williams’ op-ed piece. Audubon’s donor community did not take kindly to Audubon’s panicked reaction. Now Audubon is engaged in damage control and is frantically spinning the facts.
And one of those facts is that Audubon does NOT have a meaningful position on feral cat control, even as it admits that feral cats are a critical threat to the birds and biodiversity that Audubon exists to protect. Mr. Yarnold’s description of Audubon’s “policy” is damning. Audubon’s caving to the cat crazies is completely consistent with its spineless, toothless “policy.”
It’s great that Ted Williams’ column will return to the magazine. But until the underlying issue, possibly the greatest threat to North American birds, is meaningfully addressed, 4,700 North American birds will continue to die every minute of every hour of every year as a consequence of predation by feral cats. 4,700 birds will be killed by feral cats while you read this comment.
We don’t do the wild birds we love any favors by “making nice” on this issue. Audubon should serve its mission and adopt a meaningful, effective policy on feral cats. And then implement it.
Just for the record, WC has a cat. A 14-year old tabby, Willow. She stays indoors. And she does just fine.
If you have a cogent argument against euthanizing feral cats, have the courage of your convictions and set it out in a comment. Be prepared to explain why cats should be treated differently than feral dogs, hogs and, for that matter, boa constrictors: all are introduced, alien species who are ravaging the environment. Be prepared to explain away 4,700 birds killed by feral cats every minute, of every hour, of every day. No more whiny email accusing WC of hating cats. Instead, rebut through logic, evidence and science Dr. Brian Monk’s column.
What? 4,700? It’s 2.5 billion birds / 365 days / 24 hours / 60 minutes. Do the math.
The Mitt famously proposes to cut taxes by 20%, and to avoid increasing the deficit by closing “tax loopholes” to increase revenue. Equally famously, The Mitt refuses to describe exactly which “tax loopholes” will be closed. A lot of professional tax and economic analysts don’t think it can be done.
In fact, no fewer than six independent studies have confirmed the soundness of the Governor’s tax plan. Rather than wasting time trying to discredit the proposals of the Republican nominee, perhaps Mr. Barro and other journalists should investigate President Obama’s tax reform package. Or, more accurately, his lack of one.
Deputy Policy Director
Romney for President
And Mr. Burks was kind enough to forward links to the “six independent studies.” Josh Barro’s review and analysis of the “six independent studies” is roughly what a Cuisinart™ does to cheese. It’s worth a read, but here’s the short version.
We’ll start with the conclusion that sparked all of the excitement. The Brookings Institute back in August published an analysis of The mitt’s tax plan, concluding
Our major conclusion is that a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed – including reducing marginal tax rates substantially, eliminating the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) and maintaining all tax breaks for saving and investment – would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.
That’s how an economist says “won’t work.” Josh Barro reported all this, leading to his receipt of The Mitt’s “six independent studies.”
It turns out there aren’t any studies. There are four blog posts, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece and a paper from The Heritage Foundation.
Now WC likes to think he is a reasonably careful blogger but never, not on his smuggest day, has WC ever regarded his blog posts as “studies.” A study implies something besides an opinion and, as Barro points out, that’s really all those four blog posts offer. And as Barro demonstrates, the opinions are not well-informed.
For example, under current law interest earned on municipal and state bonds isn’t subject to federal income tax. Viewed in one way, that’s a “tax loophole.” It could certainly be terminated. But if local and state bonds were taxable, they’d have to pay a higher rate of return to attract investors. Probably about 25 – 30% higher. That would mean higher debt service – bond payments. Those payments are made by us. If the bonds went to a new water treatment plant, that would mean higher costs for water. If the bonds were for a bridge, it would mean higher tolls to pay for the bridge. The point is that closing that “tax loophole” doesn’t save the voters any money. It just forces them to pay more elsewhere.
Another example: under current federal tax law, mortgage interest is deductible to folks like you and WC. That reduces the amount of each mortgage payment by the product of your marginal tax rate multiplied by the interest you paid. Unless you are like The Mitt and only pay 13% tax rates, it’s going to be 20 – 30% saved. That allows you to buy a nicer home, because your payments are reduced by the tax savings. It’s a “tax loophole.” Congress could close that loophole. But the effect would be to sharply reduce the price of the average home the average Joe or Jane could afford to buy. By about 20 – 30%. That would echo and re-echo through the already beleaguered housing industry.
The point here is that important sectors of our economy are built around the “tax loopholes” that are in the current tax laws. The loopholes can’t be “closed” to accomplish The Mitt’s claimed goal without serious, unintended side effects.
One of Josh Barro’s key points is that The Mitt’s “studies” fail to consider those unintended consequences. And, he points out, they also fail to acknowledge that you can’t inflict those kinds of massive shocks all at once; you have to phase them in over a few years.
Another of those key points is that The Mitt has seriously boxed himself in by promising that he won’t raise taxes on persons earning $200,000 or less. The higher the income bracket protected from a tax increase, the harder it is to explain. So hard, in fact, that two of the six “studies” set the line at $100,000. Oops.
It can’t be done. That’s the bottom line. There’s not enough tax revenue in the “loopholes” available to The Mitt under The mitt’s standards to make up for the revenue loss from the 20% tax cut. And that’s before you take into account the indirect effects described earlier.
And that’s the reason The Mitt refuses to identify specific tax loopholes. If he does, the conclusion would be obvious.
It isn’t just that The Mitt is playing high stakes poker with a busted flush. He doesn’t even have any cards. And yet there’s a serious risk this congenital liar and unprincipled robber baron will be elected president. As Adlai Stevenson reportedly said, “In America, anyone can be elected president. That’s just the chance you take.”
WC had intended to post an essay mocking the statements of Wasillan Mark Ewing, candidate for the State House, at the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce candidates forum.
But in a flip-flopping series of statements, worthy of a gaffed salmon, Ewing has done a better job on himself than WC could ever do. If you’ve got your breakup boots, rubber apron and protective eye wear ready, wade into this apologia:
You are 100% correct after calling the radio talk show and posting on Facebook the next day I then checked the Wasilla Chamber web site and realized the words in the paper were mine, and I should have made that point clear and apologized to the Frontiersman, Mr Welner and also to the public. It was a poor decision on my part to not remember what I said used to describe children with special needs. I know now that what I meant to say and what I said were completely different and after reading comments from a broad parental base that all children can learn regardless of their handicap I am not against teaching special needs children and clearly not trying to hurt any students or parents that have a child in that situation.
I am sorry and thank you for pointing this out. I do feel we should have special needs schools for those that are severely handicap with programs more directed to their necessities. If this cost me the election then so be it, I felt there were many other issues I could have pointed at regarding the budget during this question.
WC will give you a chance to rinse the word salad fragments off before proceeding further…
Better now? Okay then, onward. After years of listening to and reading The Quitter’s incoherent word Jumbles™, WC has very low expectations of the Wasilla public schools. But this sentence wins some kind of prize: “It was a poor decision on my part to not remember what I said used to describe children with special needs.”
Not your only poor decision, Candidate Ewing. Starting with the Declaration of Candidacy…
As every halibut fisherperson knows, you kill a halibut before you bring it in the boat. Even then, the dead fish will thrash around, throwing fish slime everywhere, bruising shins and bashing everything in the boat. WC suggests that’s the state of campaign finance law in the U.S. today: dead, but still thrashing around, making a smelly mess.
Federal campaign law was gaffed by Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court case that invented constitutional rights for corporations and abolished limits on campaign donations to “independent” political action committees in the name of free speech. Even if you buy into Citizens United‘s reversal of 30 years of precedent, even if you think, in the words of The Mitt, that “corporations are people, too,” the reality on the ground is utter corruption.
The New York Times reports that when The Mitt’s presidential campaign needs advice on direct mail strategies for reaching voters, it looks to TargetPoint Consulting. And when the independent “super PAC” supporting him needs voter research, it, too, goes to TargetPoint.
Sharing a consultant would seem to be the essence of coordination between a candidate and an independent group, something prohibited under federal law. But TargetPoint is just one of a handful of interconnected firms in Suite 555 at 66 Canal Center Plaza in Alexandria, Va., working for either the Romney campaign or the Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future. According to the Times,
In the same suite is WWP Strategies, whose co-founder is married to TargetPoint’s chief executive and works for the Romney campaign. Across the conference room is the Black Rock Group, whose co-founder — a top Romney campaign official in 2008 — now helps run both Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, another independent group that spoke up in defense of Mr. Romney’s candidacy in January 2011. Finally, there is Crossroads Media, a media placement firm that works for American Crossroads and other Republican groups.
The overlapping roles and relationships of the consultant provide a case study in the fluidity and utterly ineffectual enforcement of rules that were intended to prevent candidates from coordinating their activities with outside groups. Set aside the ascendancy of ultra-rich super PACs, which operate free of the contribution limits imposed. The idea that they are operating independently is a bad joke.
In reality, super PACs are a slick trick for candidates to bypass the donor limits to candidates. Instead, rich donors are walked across the hall to these ostensibly independent groups, which function as adjuncts of the campaigns.
The prohibition against candidates working in concert with independent political committees traces its roots to Watergate-era reforms intended to prevent big campaign donors from gaining improper influence over elected officials. The concept was a small part of the post-Watergate campaign reforms. But it has taken on added magnified importance in the wake of Citizens United. Now there is no limit to contributions, and the recent development of §501(c)(4)s as super PAC vehicles has left the prohibition on coordination as the only remaining restraint on the power of big donors.
The Federal Election Commission (the “FEC”) has established elaborate, though narrow, guidelines for determining whether the creation of a specific campaign advertisement violates the coordination ban. But the FEC has not focused on other kinds of activities between all PACs and candidates. Rules the commission adopted in 2003, still on the books, allow for regulation of this gray area, but they have been ignored.
There evidence that Congress and the FEC intended a more active role for the FEC in regulating this kind of coordination. But the FEC itself, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, is divided along partisan lines on how far to go in enforcing rules on coordinated expenditures. The result has been regulatory paralysis.
So the halibut of campaign finance continues to flop around in the bottom of the election boat. Everyone knows it’s a dangerous situation. There’s slime everywhere. But no one does anything. The integrity of our election process, the heart of our democracy, is about as effective as the thrashing around of a dead halibut.
It’s too bad. We very nearly had integrity for a while.
Everyone has a few pet peeves. Okay, WC demonstrably has more than a few. But one of WC’s pet peeves is the whole business with “Presidents’ Day.”
Alaska law makes the third Monday in February “Presidents’ Day.” Of course, it used to be celebrated as Washington’s Birthday, and actually celebrated on February 22, the real date George Washington was born. And the federal holiday is still called Washington’s Birthday. None of this “Presidents’ Day” stuff for the Feds, proving they can get some things right. Washington’s birthday got changed to a floating date as apart of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a triumph of convenience over history, back in 1971.
Some states, including Alaska, formerly recognized Abraham Lincoln‘s birthday as a holiday. Sensible states still do. But apparently someone at the Alaska Chamber of Commerce decided having two holidays in one month was wasteful. But then the Chamber of Commerce is still annoyed by the ideas of holidays in general, minimum wages and overtime. The Chamber of Commerce thinks Foxconn is just fine and that we should stop scrutinizing it. But WC has again indulged his tendency to digress.
No, WC’s peeve is that by celebrating “Presidents’ Day” seems to imply we need to honor all presidents. Not just Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. No , the generic Alaska version of the holiday demands we honor Richard Nixon, Warren G. Harding, Millard Filmore and, shudder, George W. Bush.
WC isn’t having any of it. WC is celebrating Washington’s Birthday today, thank you very much.
If you agree with WC that George W. Bush doesn’t deserve a state holiday, write you legislators and demand they amend state law to restore the honor to the Father of Our Country, not to the sad posse of hacks that have served latterly. The Legislature’s not doing anything anyway. If they can spend hours debating and tweaking a resolution addressed to themselves, they have time for this more important task.
So here’s to you, George <clink>. And thanks.
Update: You think WC is worked up about this? Check out Stonekettle’s screed over at The Mudflats.
WC’s photography buddy Richard Ditch was kind enough to forward WC a link to still more bad news about Olympus: apparently, the cops and regulatory authorities will be raiding Olympus’s office on Monday morning. You’ll recall Olympus, which manufactures WC’s preferred camera equipment, has been in a slow motion catastrophic avalanche.
First, WC has to tip his hat to the Japanese authorities, who are apparently kind enough to warn the target of a criminal investigation of an impending raid. That’s a really different culture. Can you imagine that in Alaska? Hey Bill Allen, we’re going to put a secret microphone and television camera in your hotel suite… The mind boggles.
But the link inspired WC to look further into the scandal. Reuters has done a fine job of investigating and reporting. The accounting and corporate machinations are ridiculously complex, but, at the risk of oversimplification, here’s what seems to have happened.
Back in the late 1980s, Olympus invested in some risky securities. When the Japanese stock market crashed in 1989, Olympus was staring at big losses. Instead of taking the losses, Olympus has attempted to hide them in a long series ever more convoluted and expensive accounting scams. Eventually, they had more than $1 billion in losses to hide. The clumsy effort to pay some of those losses off, by exorbitant commissions in an over-priced acquisition of Gyrus, a British medical equipment company. The real purpose of the commission was to payoff some of that hidden, off-books debt.
The scam was reported bythe Japanese magazie Facta, then a little-known investigative journal. New Olympus president Michael Woodford tried to find out what was gong on. When he was stone-walled by senior corporate board members, he tried to hire an auditor. He was fired. He went public with his concerns. And now it has all come out, 25 years of fraud. 25-year old chickens coming home to roost.
Stay tuned. There’s sure to be more bad news to come.
WC’s frequent – one reader called it “unrelenting” – sarcasm turns out to distinctly helpful to WC’s readers. Seriously. Smithsonian Magazine reports,
Sarcasm seems to exercise the brain more than sincere statements do. Scientists who have monitored the electrical activity of the brains of test subjects exposed to sarcastic statements have found that brains have to work harder to understand sarcasm.
That extra work may make our brains sharper, according to another study. College students in Israel listened to complaints to a cellphone company’s customer service line. The students were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic as opposed to just plain angry. Sarcasm “appears to stimulate complex thinking and to attenuate the otherwise negative effects of anger,” according to the study authors.
Feel free to insert your sarcastic rejoinder here, but this conclusion is backed by serious science. John Haiman, a linguist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, his Talk is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language, wrote, “Sarcastic statements are sort of a true lie. You’re saying something you don’t literally mean, and the communication works as intended only if your listener gets that you’re insincere.” Because appreciating sarcasm requires a bit more thinking, and because exercise is good for the brain, appreciating sarcasm makes to just a little smarter.
Note the equivocation: “appreciating.” Your average Dunning-Kruger challenged Teabagger misses all the exercise because he (or she) is unable to recognize, let alone appreciate, sarcasm.
Overall, this is good news. If your four year old chid says, “Smooth move, Mom” after you’ve done something clumsy, your child’s sarcasm is a sign of intelligence and not just a smart mouth. If you have a brain injury, or a psychological condition, you are much less likely be able to recognize sarcasm.
Unfortunately, there’s no data for WC’s preferred writing tone: irony. It’s WC’s gentler cousin. Great.
There’s a long and thoughtful study on the impact of high energy prices from The New America Foundation that WC strongly recommends. There are some very effective charts and interactive graphics, too. While the study’s focus is on gasoline prices, those of who live in northern climes recognize the same issues apply to heating oil and natural gas.
Read the article, but WC would summarize the key point this way: affordable housing leads to a long commute. A long commute means more gasoline. A tough economy means it’s difficult to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. One result is high price inelasticity for gasoline; that is, when the price goes up demand doesn’t go down. And because demand doesn’t go down, neither does price. In the meantime, those who can move closer, which reduces the value of homes further from the jobs, creating a whole new liquidity trap for the middle class.
Politicians who want to solve the problem by “finding more gas” don’t recognize that the combination of worldwide demand and increasingly expensive production costs means you simply can’t produce your way out of the problem. It also means that, subject to bumps up and down, over time the price of gasoline will only increase.
There aren’t any elegant solutions. We’re in for a long, painful period of weaning ourselves off of gasoline.
It’s a very good report, and the more you think about the implications beyond the report, the more concerned you will be.
It’s likely a sign of old age, but from time to time WC is appalled by the deterioration in the quality of life. Little things and major things. The Deteriorata thread of blog posts explores and rails about those changes.
WC travels on business and vacation far more than he would like. In Fairbanks, Alaska, that means mostly travel on Alaska Airlines. WC has a membership in the Board Room, Alaska Airlines’ pricey lounge system. It’s generally quieter, there’s superior internet service and WC can get a little work done.
WC received an email from Melyssa Schug, Manager, Airport Club Rooms today, talking about “Important Board Room Improvements & Policy Updates.” After a very bad flight back from Seattle to Fairbanks, it provoked a response from the normally equanimous WC. Which WC will share with his readers:
Ms. Meylyssa Schug, Manager
Airport Club Rooms
PO Box 24585
Seattle, WA 98124-0585
Dear Ms. Schug -
WC has your email on Board Room “improvements.” Since it is impossible to reach an Alaska Airlines Board Room without a current boarding pass – TSA is fussy about that, isn’t it? – this seems to be more a matter of spin than benefit. You seem to assume we are incapable of seeing the difference.
The requirement of a “same-day ticketed boarding pass” is nonsensical. If WC’s flight leaves at 12:30 AM on Tuesday, and WC checks-in – as required by your airline’s policies – two hours in advance, WC won’t be able to use the Board Room on Monday night, will he? If it were open, of course.
WC assumes WC will now present his boarding pass to a scanner, which will admit him to the board room. Instead of a charming and helpful professional to greet WC at the counter, WC will be greeted by a bar code scanner? So Alaska Airlines can reduce staffing in the Board Room and save a few dollars? Or Alaska Airlines will save itself a few dollars by avoiding the cost of making and distributing Board Room cards?
WC would put this on a par with the food served in first class on WC’s most recent flight: a cold slab of chicken breast smothered in a tasteless, nearly unseasoned white sauce. In fairness, WC could see very small quantities of what might have been dill in the white sauce. But you sure couldn’t taste it. The meal was garnished with eight (8) leaves of lettuce, two small pieces of tomato and a small, inedible hard candy.
And that was after sitting on the ground in the aircraft Seattle for an hour and a quarter with little or no explanation.
If this were really about customers and not profits, you’d add a Board Room module to you Alaska Airlines smart phone app, along with the electronic boarding pass, and have all of the paperwork digitized. But before you could do that you’d have to get your scanners to recognize and read a smart phone-based boarding pass…
Ms. Schug, Alaska Airlines is becoming what its advertisements used to mock: bad food, bad service and a bad experience. WC expects to see recycled plastic parsley soon. Sure, Alaska Airlines has a near-monopoly in and out of Fairbanks, but could you and your employer treat us with a little more intelligence, courtesy and thoughtfulness?
PS. If you don’t remember plastic parsley, Ms. Schug, try this video, at about 5:23 into the clips.
(WC sent a copy of this letter via email to Ms. Schug on September 28. WC has not had a response.)