Opera acquires Fastmail

Opera acquires FastMail.fm


Opera Software today announced that it has acquired Web-based e-mail provider FastMail.fm. The acquisition will enable Opera to expand its current messaging product portfolio and deliver cross-platform messaging to a wide range of devices, including computers, mobile phones, TVs and gaming consoles.

Headquartered in Australia, FastMail.fm has forged a reputation for responsiveness and reliability. The company already offers some of the most advanced Web-based e-mail platforms for consumers and small business customers and has been lauded for its approach to security, focus on innovation, and support for open, interoperable standards.

Comment: Fastmail is my email provider.

Microsoft joins Apple on video standards

Microsoft echoes Apple: 'future of the Web is HTML5'


Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s General Manager of Internet Explorer, cut to the chase rather quickly, by stating “the future of the Web is HTML5.” He also said that Microsoft has been “deeply engaged” in the HTML5 process with the W3C, the standards body that drafts the specifications for how HTML5 should work. The company’s Internet Explorer 9, now in beta for Windows users, features HTML5 support. Hachamovitch says that while the W3C does not specify a video format for video embedded in HTML5 sites, Microsoft has joined Apple in supporting H.264, and H.264 alone.

In a potential move to soften the blow to an already upset Adobe, Hachamovitch does end his piece with an acknowledgement that “despite [some] issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web.”

Of course, with the rise of the portable devices that don’t support Flash—and especially the popularity of the iPhone and iPad—major publishers and content providers have quickly accelerated the adoption of HTML5 and H.264 to provide Flash-less video delivery. Or, in other words, while Flash may be the Web technology of today, don't think it will necessarily by the Web technology of tomorrow.

Comment: H.264

Robert Cailliau on Web standards

Why The Co-Developer Of The World Wide Web Isn’t On Facebook (Video Interview)


Check out his website: Robert Cailliau . Check out his Web standards test page.

His comments on Internet Explorer:

Windows Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Vista does not respect the W3C standards for cascading style sheets and it does not even render a file marked as xhtml such as this one. If you have trouble with my site, it may be your browser. Download Firefox or Safari if you are a Windows user.

America's short attention span

America's short attention span strikes again: A study of New York Times coverage shows that the press loves to cover a natural disaster. For about a week


"American public attention rarely remains sharply focused on any one domestic issue for very long -- even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society." So wrote the economist Anthony Downs in 1972. He described the "issue-attention cycle": "Each of these problems suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time and then -- though still largely unresolved -- gradually fades from the center of public attention."

Three months after the earthquake in Haiti, it is clear that it's not only domestic problems that receive this kind of attention. Indeed, a comparison of New York Times stories about three recent natural disasters -- Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and the earthquake in Haiti -- shows that the issue-attention cycle characterizes news coverage of each.


... natural disasters are by their nature sudden, but the problems they illuminate -- vulnerable levees, dire poverty, weak political institutions -- are chronic. The Onion’s headline about Haiti was fitting: "Massive Earthquake Reveals Entire Island Civilization Called 'Haiti.'"

"Euphoric enthusiasm" ensues, as citizens and governments muster aid. But as the "cost of significant progress" becomes clear, few people or leaders are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. There is a "gradual decline of intense public interest" -- perhaps not even gradual in these cases. And the news knows it. Not two weeks after the earthquake, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta told the New York Times: "We all know what’s going to happen. People are just going to lose interest in this as a story. They’re going to stop watching."

News coverage can even help assuage people's guilt. Two weeks after the disaster, the New York Times saw "signs of revival in Haiti.” Seven weeks after that, the Dallas Morning News found "signs of normal life." Such signs may be real, but these sorts of stories aren't likely to sustain the public's interest.

Comment: It happens in business and churches too. Some issue is a crisis and their is great focus on it .... until the next crisis


A place to watch the oceans rise

Al Gore, Tipper Gore snap up Montecito-area villa

Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, have added a Montecito-area property to their real estate holdings, reports the Montecito Journal.

The couple spent $8,875,000 on an ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with a swimming pool, spa and fountains, a real estate source familiar with the deal confirms. The Italian-style house has six fireplaces, five bedrooms and nine bathrooms.

Comment: Map

Steve Jobs on Flash

Jobs Attacks Flash As Unfit for iPhone


"Flash was created during the PC era—for PCs and mice," said Mr. Jobs in the note published Thursday. "The mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open Web standards—all areas where Flash falls short."


Some market watchers took issue with the points raised in Mr. Jobs' essay Thursday. "I think he's a real good spin doctor," said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research. Yes, Flash is targeted by hackers, but that's because the technology is so common, he said.

Other points raised by Mr. Jobs are just wrong, Mr. Hammond said. HTML5 is a promising technology, but "not ready for prime time yet," and Flash is as close to open as a proprietary technology can be. It's Apple, Mr. Hammond argued, that has the closed system, including the right to block any app from its store.

Dave Wolf, vice president of strategy at Cynergy Systems Inc., a Washington, D.C., design firm, calls Apple's no-Flash policy "a pain." Mr. Wolf had planned to build mobile apps for clients using the new Adobe software; the apps cost upwards of $40,000 a piece, meaning that without such a tool most customers can only afford to build apps for one device. They almost always choose the iPhone, said Mr. Wolf.

Full Essay: Thoughts on Flash

Comments: I am not a big fan of Flash or Acrobat Reader. They are constantly under hacker attack. I've never had my Mac crash with Flash. One wonders if Jobs has an agenda here! Thoughts?


Euro Debt Contagion

S&P Downgrades Spain


Just one day after roiling global markets with downgrades for both Greece and Portugal, Standard & Poor's Corp. on Wednesday downgraded Spain's longterm credit-rating to double-A with a negative outlook.

"We now believe that the Spanish economy's shift away from credit-fuelled economic growth is likely to result in a more protracted period of sluggish activity than we previously assumed," Standard & Poor's credit analyst Marko Mrsnik said.

Comment: Imagine when governments cannot pay their own debt! How long until the US experiences this?


Before Eyjafjallajokull and Krakatoa there was Tambora

Eruptions and Disruptions: Iceland's volcano pales before giants


On the evening of April 5, 1815, on the island of Sumbawa in what's now Indonesia, a volcano named Tambora began to rumble and cough. It sputtered on and off for days. Then on the 11th and 12th, eruptions shook houses and boats hundreds of miles away. Over 10 days, Tambora belched 24 cubic miles of lava and pulverized rock (try to imagine a cubic mile of anything), and created a crater more than three miles wide and nearly a mile deep.

Flowing lava, flying rocks and deadly gases killed thousands of people on Sumbawa, which is near the Equator, and nearby islands. Earthquakes and tsunamis killed tens of thousands more. Hundreds of millions of tons of ash and dust filled the sky, turning days into nights and blanketing the nearby island of Bali in a foot of volcanic ash. It smothered vegetation on islands for hundreds of miles around, and carpets of floating pumice covered the seas. An estimated 117,000 people in the region, then known as the Dutch East Indies, eventually died, many from starvation caused by crop failures and epidemics of disease. And that was just the beginning.


Like a giant cannon, Tambora blew ash, dust and an estimated 400 million tons of sulfurous gases some 27 miles straight up into the stratosphere, high above the weather. This material blew up and through the troposphere—the layer nearest Earth's surface where clouds, wind, rain and 75% of the weight of the atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, trace gases and water vapor) reside. The troposphere is 4.8 miles thick at the North and South Poles and 9.6 miles thick at the equator. Tambora blew its load more than 17 miles beyond it, up where the air is super-thin and a layer of ozone protects the Earth from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

There, the pull of the Earth's gravity is very light, so the ash and dust floated and spread into a thin veneer circling the globe. The sulfurous gases mixed with water vapor and ozone to create an aerosol of sulfuric acid. The particles and molecules, under gravity's gentle pull, slowly sank into a layer that blanketed the planet and reflected the sun's warming rays back into space. Over several years, it settled into the troposphere, where winds and rains eventually deposited it on Earth.


College Station TX trip

We returned yesterday from our brief trip to Texas. We flew to Dallas on Friday and rented a car to drive to Bryan / College Station, TX. We attended a rehearsal dinner Friday night, a wedding and reception on Saturday, and then drove to Mansfield TX on Sunday. Sunday night we celebrated my Mother's 90th birthday.

  • Our rental car was a new Nissan Altima. Although it is considered a mid-sized car, it had a lot of interior room. And although it only had a 4 cylinder engine, it had a lot of power.
  • Saturday morning we visited the George Bush Museum on the campus of Texas A & M University
  • This was our first time being South of Dallas by car. The country side is beautiful.

Back to the reality of work today!


CitiGroup 2 time loser

Filing Favors J.P. Morgan's WaMu Bid Over Citi's


Citigroup Inc.'s unsuccessful bid for the teetering banking operations of Washington Mutual Inc. proposed that the U.S. government absorb a majority of the thrift's loan losses and limited Citigroup's financial exposure to $10 billion, according to a document released by regulators.

Terms of the offer by the New York bank previously were kept secret by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which sold the failed banking units to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for $1.88 billion in September 2008. The document was disclosed following a Freedom of Information Act request by The Wall Street Journal.

The document appears to weaken claims by Washington Mutual's now-bankrupt parent company that the FDIC bent over backward to give J.P. Morgan a sweetheart deal on Washington Mutual. Citigroup offered no upfront cash as part of its bid and didn't want to assume Washington Mutual's uninsured deposits.

Citigroup also wanted the FDIC to cover 80% of "first losses" on the thrift's loans, including mortgages battered by declining real-estate values. Losses by the New York bank on the remaining 20% would have been capped at $10 billion, the document shows, with the FDIC stuck with any additional loan losses.

In comparison, J.P. Morgan sought and received no loss-sharing agreement from the FDIC. It also took control of all deposits held by Washington Mutual, whose collapse was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. "It would appear from publicly available documents that J.P. Morgan was far and away the best bidder," said Kevin Starke, an analyst with CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Conn. "In hindsight, Citi's bid was too conservative."

J.P. Morgan and Citigroup were the only banks to bid for Washington Mutual as part of the auction process that is customary when insured U.S. banks and savings institutions fail. Under federal law, the FDIC must accept the "least-cost" offer from potential acquirers.

"The FDIC was able to sell WaMu through an unassisted transaction that protected all depositors and resulted in zero exposure to the government," an FDIC spokesman said. "No other bid accomplished this." Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the Washington Mutual holding company, now in bankruptcy proceedings, declined to comment.

Comment: Also lost out on Wachovia

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes


"Death and Taxes" is a large representational graph and poster of the federal budget. It contains over 500 programs and departments and almost every program that receives over 200 million dollars annually. The data is straight from the president's 2010 budget request and will be debated, amended, and approved by Congress to begin the fiscal year. All of the item circles are proportional in size to their spending totals and the percentage change from 2009 is included to spot trends and disproportion.

Comment: I ordered 2 today.

Controversy at Capella University

Online University Cracks Down On Rowdy Online Fraternity


Capella University, one of the nation's most heavily trafficked institutions of online learning, issued a stern disciplinary e-mail message to the members of the disorderly Alpha Sigma Sigma online fraternity Monday.

"Alpha Sigma Sigma has not only broken the rules included in each distance learner's Online Application User Agreement, but they have also continually thwarted our efforts to create a serious online-learning community and an inclusive e-campus," Capella Dean of Students Theodore Albertson said. "This rowdy fraternity has been a thorn in the school's side for years, and frankly, we've had enough."

Since opening its Capella chapter in 1996, the online fraternity has been cited numerous times for conducting illicit co-ed chatroom parties and circulating anti-administration QuickTime videos. In 1999, the university officially censured Alpha Sigma Sigma for conducting illegal hazing activities, in which pledges were coerced into participating in lewd and embarrassing acts via webcam.

More serious infractions involved illegal activities. In 2002, several Alpha Sigma Sigma members were arrested for purchasing alcohol from Wine.com with falsified driver's licenses and credit-card numbers. Then, in the spring of 2003, fraternity members hacked into the web site of rival University of Phoenix Online, erased its mascot, and placed a downloaded version on their own web site. Although no one was ever charged with the theft of the copyrighted clip art, the online fraternity was warned that further misbehavior would result in serious disciplinary action.

"There's no place for this sort of activity at Capella," Albertson said. "Students should be focusing on getting the real-world skills they need to advance their careers, not getting drunk and leaving profane postings on bulletin boards hours after curfew."

Albertson has ordered Alpha Sigma Sigma brothers to vacate their web space by Sept. 1. Any files left on the group's former server will be confiscated and deleted.

In his e-mail, Albertson singled out Alpha Sigma Sigma's webmaster David "Skipper" Gudis and forums moderator Ralph "Chip" Tanner—both enrolled in the school's 12-month MBA program—for their "utter disrespect for the traditions and customs upon which the online university was built."

Gudis is notorious among Capella students for creating LadiesOfCapella.wmv, an online facebook containing streaming web video of women from the online Alpha Alpha Kappa sorority. During the first two weeks of August, the monthly bandwidth use for the site, which was viewed more than 7,000 times, averaged a whopping 60.4 GB, costing the university thousands of dollars.

Comment: "The Onion" humor article (in case this was not obvious!). Official site www.capella.edu


White Men Can't Run

Race factors into evaluation of Gerhart


When NFL scouts look at Gerhart, they see a 6-foot, 231-pound power back who ran for 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, getting edged out by Alabama’s Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman vote in history. When they look at Gerhart’s numbers from the NFL scouting combine, they see that he ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash and registered a 38-inch vertical leap, both impressive numbers for a player his size.

Yet they also see a white guy trying to make it in the league as a feature back, something that has become increasingly rare in this era. Peyton Hillis(notes), now with the Cleveland Browns, led the Denver Broncos in rushing yards in 2008, but was limited to just 54 last season in part because of 2009 draft pick Knowshon Moreno’s(notes) addition.

Race shouldn’t be an issue, of course, but Gerhart can’t help but believe that it has colored the opinions of at least some potential employers.

One team I interviewed with asked me about being a white running back,” Gerhart says. “They asked if it made me feel entitled, or like I felt I was a poster child for white running backs. I said, ‘No, I’m just out there playing ball. I don’t think about that.’ I didn’t really know what to say.

One longtime NFL scout insisted that Gerhart’s skin color will likely prevent the Pac-10’s offensive player of the year from being drafted in Thursday’s first round.

He’ll be a great second-round pickup for somebody, but I guarantee you if he was the exact same guy – but he was black – he’d go in the first round for sure,” the scout said. “You could make a case that he’s a Steven Jackson-type – doesn’t have blazing speed but he’s strong and powerful and versatile.”

Comment: A variation of White Men Can't Jump

Pink Dots

Seeing Is Believing...or is it?

Comment: Sent to me from Powers Payton

Housing: Buy vs Rent interactive

Is It Better to Buy or Rent?

Comment: Nice interactive graphic from the NY Times


I reserved a Nissan Leaf

Official site: Nissan Leaf

Comment: My wife is skeptical, but I think this would be a great car to commute back and forth from downtown. I deposited $ 99 today to reserve a spot

Things Happy Couples Talk About

10 Things Happy Couples Talk About

The List:

  1. Embarrassing moments
  2. Political viewpoints
  3. Fears and insecurities
  4. Childhood
  5. Past relationships
  6. Family life.
  7. Current events
  8. TV and movies
  9. The future

Comment: The article actually only had 9! Kathee and I rarely talk about TV / Movies although we sometimes watch an old movie together. We talk about the news, work (but we try to limit this), the kids, our faith. I try to read the Wall Street Journal after dinner and often we will discuss an article. The other things we do: We pray together at every meal and we read the Bible together aloud. We also read aloud one of the Valley of Vision prayers each night. On Tuesdays we have a financial discussion where we review everything: credit cards, investments, checkbook, future planned purchases, etc.


VAT would be just a gargantuan instrument for further subjugating Americans to government

A plan to tax everybody


Corporations do not pay taxes; they collect them, passing the burden to consumers as a cost of production. And corporate taxation is a feast of rent-seeking — a cornucopia of credits, exemptions and other subsidies conferred by the political class on favored, and grateful, corporations. Because the income tax is not broadly based, it radiates moral hazard: Its incentives are for perverse behavior. The top 1 percent of earners provide 40 percent of that tax's receipts; the top 5 percent provide 61 percent; the bottom 50 percent provide 3 percent. So the tax makes a substantial majority complacent about government's growth.

Increasingly, the income tax is codified envy. A VAT is the political class's recourse when the resources of the minority that is targeted by the envious are insufficient to finance ravenous government.


Because a VAT potentially taxes everything, it would be riddled with exemptions. This is because it maximizes the political class's opportunities for showing favoritism — by, for example, exempting certain "green" goods. It also widens that class's scope for the pleasure of being bossy. For example, it could reduce a VAT's regressiveness — like rain, a VAT falls equally on the rich and the poor, but the poor devote a larger portion of their income to consumption — by exempting most foods but not those that the nanny state disapproves: "Put down that sugary soda and step away from the vending machine!"

Money is time made tangible — the time invested in the earning of it. Taxation is the confiscation of the earner's time. Although some taxation is necessary, all taxation diminishes freedom. Adding a VAT without subtracting the income tax would constrict Americans' freedom much more than the health-care legislation does. Because the 16th Amendment will not be repealed, adoption of a VAT would proclaim the impossibility of serious spending reductions and hence would be the obituary for the Founders' vision of limited government.

Comment: Worthwhile read!

Vacationing a human right!

Vacationing a human right, EU chief says


The European Union has declared travelling a human right, and is launching a scheme to subsidize vacations with taxpayers' dollars for those too poor to afford their own trips.

Antonio Tajani, the European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry, proposed a strategy that could cost European taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros a year, The Times of London reports.

"Travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life," Mr. Tajani told a group of ministers at The European Tourism Stakeholders Conference in Madrid on April 15. Mr. Tajani was appointed to his post by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The plan -- just who gets to enjoy the travel package has yet to be determined -- would see taxpayers footing some of the vacation bill for seniors, youths between the ages of 18 and 25, disabled people, and families facing "difficult social, financial or personal" circumstances. The disabled and elderly can also be accompanied by one other person. The EU and its taxpayers are slated to fund 30% of the cost of these tours, which could range from youth exploring abandoned factories and power plants in Manchester to retirees taking discount trips to Madrid, all in the name of cultural appreciation.

"The commission is literally considering paying people to go on holiday," Mats Persson, of pro-reform think-tank Open Europe, told Britain's News of the World. "In this economic climate, it's astonishing that the EU wants to bribe people with cheap holidays."

Comment: I'm going to Disneyland!

Jack Kevorkian opines on Detroit and more

Economics 101 With Dr. Kevorkian


Question: You’re from Michigan. What do you think about the current state of the city of Detroit?

Jack Kevorkian: It’s a dying city, if it’s not already dead. The bankruptcy of the auto industry hurt it very badly, also. But then, that was due to inept leadership, lack of foresight. And yet, they make billions for lack of foresight.

Comment: Interesting interview. I'm thinking that he is targeting the auto industry for its "inept leadership" but the same could be said about Michigan's political leadership.


$22,000 per student in the Newark school system, yet less than a third of these students graduate!

New Jersey's 'Failed Experiment'


"I'm a product of public schools in New Jersey," Mr. Christie explains, "and I have great admiration for people who commit their lives to teaching, but this isn't about them. This is about a union president who makes $265,000 a year, and her executive director who makes $550,000 a year. This is about a union that has been used to getting its way every time. And they have intimidated governors for the last 30 years."

While the state lost 121,000 jobs last year, education jobs in local school districts soared by more than 11,000. Over the past eight years, according to Mr. Christie, K-12 student enrollment has increased 3% while education jobs have risen by more than 16%. The governor believes cuts in aid to local schools in his budget could be entirely offset if existing teachers would forgo scheduled raises and agree to pay 1.5% of their medical insurance bill for one year, just as new state employees will be required to do every year.

A new Rasmussen poll found that 65% of New Jersey voters agree with him about a one-year pay freeze for teachers. But the teachers union wants to close the budget gap by raising the income tax rate on individuals and small businesses making over $400,000 per year to 10.75% from its current 8.97%.

Mr. Christie doesn't think that state and local budget problems can be fixed without tackling education spending. That's because the state has a hybrid system in which local property taxes fund schools and some of the money is redistributed by the state from affluent areas to poorer communities. According to Mr. Christie, New Jersey taxpayers are spending $22,000 per student in the Newark school system, yet less than a third of these students graduate, proving that more money isn't the answer to better performance. He favors more student choice, which is why he's ramping up approvals for charter schools.

Comment: More $$ won't fix this broken educational system!

Why I would never buy Civet coffee

From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste


Costing hundreds of dollars a pound, these beans are found in the droppings of the civet, a nocturnal, furry, long-tailed catlike animal that prowls Southeast Asia’s coffee-growing lands for the tastiest, ripest coffee cherries. The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit — essentially, incipient coffee beans — though only after they have been fermented in the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.

As connoisseurs in the United States, Europe and East Asia have discovered civet coffee in recent years, growing demand is fueling a gold rush in the Philippines and Indonesia, the countries with the largest civet populations. Harvesters are scouring forest floors in the Philippines, where civet coffee has emerged as a new business. In Indonesia, where the coffee has a long history, enterprising individuals are capturing civets and setting up minifarms, often in their backyards.


Maintaining quality was a constant challenge because distinguishing the real stuff from the fake was never easy. One time, harvesters sold her regular beans glued to unidentified dung.

Comment: Civet coffee. I'm thinking maybe there is a way to turn the cat litter box in our basement into a home-based business!

Anno Kim

In North Korea, Juche Iron vs. American Crows


Year 1 of the Juche Calendar (named after “Juche Thought,” the regime’s official pseudo-ideology) was 1912, the birth year of the state’s founder, Kim Il-sung, whose birthday was celebrated last week. The new century will therefore be celebrated next year with all the requisite hoopla, which must then be outdone in 2012 for the 100th anniversary of Kim’s birth.

Comment: 2nd image from Anno Domini


"Closing staff sucks."

Opening Staff Rails Against Incompetence Of Closing Staff


Citing a recent rash of barely mopped floors, sloppy register work, and general negligence, the opening staff of local restaurant Dom's issued a harsh proclamation this week, saying it would no longer endure the half-assed performance of the closing staff.

"Enough is enough," said Dan Vichas, who has worked the opening shift for more than a year and always gets stuck taking out the trash even though it's not his job. "Look at this: They filled this bucket full of damp rags and then left them to sit over night, which they totally know they're not supposed to do. Now I have to fill the bucket full of water, add bleach, and then dry the towels out properly—in addition to everything else on my prep list."

Comment: For my daughter who has worked both the closing and opening shifts at Caribou Coffee

The Cockroaches Hall of Fame

Man celebrates cockroaches with museum

Comment: Official Site. We are flying to Dallas next Friday. Probably will miss this.


Explaining V.A.T. (Value Added Tax)

Europe's VAT Lessons: Rates start low and increase, while income tax rates stay high.


A VAT is essentially a national sales tax that is assessed at each stage of production, with the bill passed along to consumers at the cash register. In Europe the average rate is a little under 20%. In the U.S., a federal VAT would presumably be levied on top of state and local sales taxes that range as high as 10%. Some nations also exempt food, medicine and certain other goods from the tax.

VATs were sold in Europe as a way to tax consumption, which in principle does less economic harm than taxing income, savings or investment. This sounds good, but in practice the VAT has rarely replaced the income tax, or even resulted in a lower income-tax rate.


In the U.S., VAT proponents aren't calling for a repeal of the 16th Amendment that allowed the income tax—and, in fact, they want income tax rates to rise. The White House has promised to let the top individual rate increase in January to 39.6% from 35% as the Bush tax cuts expire, while the dividend rate will go to 39.6% from 15% and the capital gains rate to 20% next year and 23.8% in 2013 under the health bill, from 15% today. Even with these higher rates, or because of them, revenues won't come close to paying for the Obama Administration's new spending—which is why it is also eyeing a VAT.

One trait of European VATs is that while their rates often start low, they rarely stay that way. Of the 10 major OECD nations with VATs or national sales taxes, only Canada has lowered its rate. Denmark has gone to 25% from 9%, Germany to 19% from 10%, and Italy to 20% from 12%. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation recently calculated that to balance the U.S. federal budget with a VAT would require a rate of at least 18%.

Proponents also argue that a VAT would result in less federal government borrowing. But that, too, has rarely been true in Europe. From the 1980s through 2005, deficits were by and large higher in Europe than in the U.S. By 2005, debt averaged 50% of GDP in Europe, according to OECD data, compared to under 40% in the U.S.

Comment: Back in college (I majored in economics and finance), my econ profs were agog over the V.A.T. But they saw it as a replacement to the income tax. Current thought is that it would be in addition to! My view is that taxing consumption instead of income would be better for our nation (Thought: it would spur investment!).


What happens if I don't file my tax return?

Taxes, Schmaxes


What happens if you get tired of waiting and decide not to file your taxes at all?

Probably nothing. If you're self-employed without any major assets or loans, the odds of getting busted are extremely low. In fact, an estimated 7 million Americans fail to file their taxes every year, and in 2008 the IRS examined only 158,000 such cases. That comes out to a roughly 2 percent chance of getting caught. Even if the IRS does audit you, the agency probably won't press charges. Instead, they'll just file a tax return for you and charge you a fee for the trouble.


Tax evasion can catch up with you if you take out a mortgage for a house (since tax statements are usually necessary) or if you take a government job, like, say, treasury secretary (since the IRS automatically audits all incoming employees). Evasion is also a bad idea if you have enemies: The IRS often snags evaders when embittered spouses or fired employees rat out their former lovers or bosses.


There's a difference between paying taxes for a few years, then stopping, and never paying them at all. The IRS keeps records, so it knows if you suddenly stop filing. You'd probably have more luck sailing under the radar if you start cheating from the get-go. But, again, that'll work only if you're self-employed—or, better yet, unemployed.

You should also keep in mind that the IRS can bust you down the line. Yes, there's a statute of limitations for criminal penalties: After six years, you can't go to jail for not paying taxes. But if the IRS ever discovers that you didn't file your taxes in 2008, they can still force you to pay civil penalties.

Comment: It would be a very bad idea to not file! Another article below

What Happens If You Don’t File Your Tax Return?


Penalties may be categorized as failure to file or failure to pay penalties which will automatically assessed by the IRS, and as an underpayment that are related to some negligence or intentional fault of the tax payer.

The failure to file or (FTF) penalty is assessed by the IRS at a rate of 5% per month or partial month up to a 25% maximum. The failure to pay (FTP) penalty is assessed by the IRS at a rate of 0.5% per month or partial month up to a 25% maximum. If both the FTF and FTP penalties are assessed, the FTF penalty is reduced by the FTP penalty.

Spreading the tax pain around

Comment: Two articles on taxes.

The five dumbest parts of the U.S. tax code

The List:

  1. Ethanol credits: Ethanol was pitched as a kind of energy panacea back when President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, mandating an increase in the use of the corn-derived biofuel. Generous credits doled out to manufacturers and producers accelerated industry’s initial embrace of ethanol, but the skeptics have gained the upper hand in this argument. Ethanol production has been fingered as one of the culprits in the spike in food prices a couple of years ago (tariffs kept the United States from using sugarcane-based ethanol from Latin America), and it turns out that making the stuff consumes a lot of the nonrenewable fuel its use was supposed to conserve. Nonetheless, alcohol-fuel credits will burn through some $12 billion between 2007 and next year.
  2. Exemption for inherited stock-gains: Say, like Forrest Gump’s buddy Lieutenant Dan, you had the foresight to buy Apple stock when it went public in 1980 at $22 a share. If you died last week when the stock was at $230.90 a share, whoever inherited it wouldn’t have to pay capital gains on the increase, even if they turned around and sold it on the way to your funeral. To economists, this makes no sense, because if you’d sold that stock the day before your death, you would have had to pay capital gains. Tax planners even encourage elderly investors not to sell stock solely for the tax benefit it confers to their heirs.

    This exemption isn’t chump change; it’s predicted to total about $280 billion between 2011 and 2015. Proponents of the exemption counter with that the estate tax takes care of these windfalls; in reality, though, the estate-tax exemption is large enough that it misses a lot of these capital gains.
  3. Mortgage-interest deduction: This one is almost universally decried by economists. The bigger the homeowner’s mortgage, the bigger the deduction. This has the effect both of tacitly encouraging people to buy as much (or more) house than they can possibly afford, and it rewards McMansion owners far more richly than it does those who own more modest abodes. The wealthy get a windfall, while renters, whose median income is half that of homeowners, according to 2007 Census Bureau data, aren’t even invited to the party. From a macro standpoint, economists also fret that the deduction leads people to invest more heavily in housing than they otherwise would at the expense of other sectors of the economy.
  4. Exemption on employer-provided health insurance: This one is not without its share of controversy, as evident by the term “Cadillac plans” and the intensely heated rhetoric around the health care reform bill. Why would anyone want to tax what we have collectively come to think of as a national right?

    For starters, there’s a ton of cash at stake. This exemption is the largest by far in the federal tax code. According to White House budget projections, it’s going to cost the government more than a trillion dollars between 2011 and 2015 alone. (While the new health care plan does call for taxing some employer-provided insurance, it doesn’t kick in until 2018 and won’t apply to all plans.)
  5. Municipal-bond-interest exclusion: Unlike the mortgage interest or health care plan exemptions, the big cheerleaders of this loophole are state and local governments. Groups like the Government Finance Officers Association hate the idea of letting the federal government tax municipal bonds, and so far their view has prevailed. Unfortunately, the perception of big savings is a shell game that benefits bondholders more than the local municipality, while the federal government takes it on the chin.

Comments (on just one of these): The Federal government should eliminate the employer-provided health insurance exemption. And the provide every American a $ 5000 credit (really amount to be determined!) to buy one's own health insurance. It would level the playing field and make the system more efficient. Of course Obamacare cancels this idea!

For Top Earners, Tax Bite Is Likely to Be Worst


A January study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center provides the worst-case scenario. It found that to reduce the federal budget deficit to a sustainable 3% of gross domestic product, the government would have to find an average of about half a trillion dollars each year in new revenue (or spending cuts). That's roughly how much the federal government spends now on the giant Medicare program.

To cover that amount through tax increases on the top two brackets—roughly, families with more than $209,000 in taxable income—top rates would have to go from the current 33% and 35% to 72.4% and 76.8%, the study found.

Comments: Check out the chart with this article. The net of it is that "the rich" are already paying a lot of taxes. The top 10% of wage earners are paying 73% of the taxes. It will be hard to squeeze them more. A V.A.T. tax just buries taxes into all products and services ... raising prices and in effect just devalues the purchasing power of the dollar.


Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax

Americans Split on Whether Their Income Taxes Are Too High

Phyllis Schlafly: America Becomes a Two-Class Society


Income tax day, April 15, 2010, now divides Americans into two almost equal classes: those who pay for the services provided by government and the freeloaders. The percentage of Americans who will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009 has risen to 47 percent.

That isn't the worst of it. The bottom 40 percent not only pay no income tax, but the government sends them cash or benefits financed by the taxes dutifully paid by those who do pay income tax.

The outright cash handouts include the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can amount to as much as $5,657 a year to low-income families. Other financial benefits can include child tax credits, welfare, food stamps, WIC (Women, Infants, Children), housing subsidies, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, S-CHIP and other programs.

This is both a massive transfer of wealth and a soak-the-rich racket. The top 10 percent pay 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.


Although all wage-earners help fund their own Social Security and Medicare benefits, only federal income taxpayers pay the costs of running the federal government, and are responsible for paying off our $12.8 trillion national debt and for bailing out Social Security, Medicare, and Fannie and Freddie when they collapse.

Comment: I'm one who pays taxes. I think the amount we pay is fair!


The IRS plans more audits

How to Fight the IRS


With Washington searching for ways to cut the budget deficit, IRS officials face intense pressure to collect more revenue. The agency plans more audits, especially of taxpayers in high brackets or those who are self-employed and deal in large amounts of cash. The IRS also has turned up the heat in such areas as offshore tax evasion, including undisclosed foreign bank accounts.

If you become an IRS target, what should you do?

For many people, the answer may seem simple: Surrender as quickly as possible, no matter how good a case you have.

Even if you are sure you are right and have all the records to prove it, fighting the IRS, one of the most powerful government bureaucracies on the planet, can be the ultimate nightmare. Seemingly routine struggles can drag on for years, leading to endless frustration and sleepless nights. Even those who eventually triumph may wonder if the fight was worth all the time, effort and expense.

But if you're ready for the challenge, there are many smart ways to fight back—and win. Start by keeping comprehensive, well-organized documents. Always scour the IRS's claims for mistakes. Don't get discouraged when dealing with tax officials. If you are convinced you are correct, consider pushing your case up the chain of command. Try the IRS appeals division. You may also get valuable help from the IRS's taxpayer advocate service. Or go to court.

At the same time, there are some classically dumb mistakes to avoid—everything from simply ignoring the IRS to arguing that it somehow is voluntary to pay federal income tax.

Here are some combat tips from lawyers, accountants and "enrolled agents," who are federally licensed tax experts authorized to represent taxpayers at all levels of the IRS.

Comment: Full article has tips. We were contacted by the IRS once for a clarification (this was back in about 1985). We had made a mistake on our return. I hired a tax accountant to file an amended return. We had to pay out a small amount plus a penalty.

One job for entire career .... not many any more

Career for life? For a lucky few, it still exists


There was a time when people like Richard Keshishian, who has been an employee at Prudential for nearly three decades, had to whisper the number of years they spent with one company.

It just wasn’t hip to be with one company for more than a few years. Job-hopping in order to boost your career had become the norm.

“But the tide is changing,” said Keshishian, 52, vice president of benefits for the insurance company. “When I tell not only people within Prudential, but friends who have bounced around from job to job, they are impressed with being able to claim 20 years or more of service.”

Comment: My Dad was one of them and he kind of lucked into it. He dropped out of HS after the 10th grade (which I understand was common back then where he lived). He worked at a creamery for a year or two. Then he started working for the phone company digging ditches and erecting telephone poles. He was drafted for a year (the year before Pearl Harbor). After war was declared he was in the Army for the duration. He was discharged as a Master Sergeant. He was rehired by A.T.&T. They credited him with his years of military service. So in 1945 he had about 6 years of service. Dad and Mom converted his dress military uniform to a business suite and had it died dark blue. He ended up with 44 years of service with A.T.&T.

Kathee and I are closing in on 20 years. She was hired by United Bank in Colorado .. which was acquired by Norwest ... which acquired Wells Fargo (and took the Wells Fargo name) ... which merged with Wachovia. She has 18 years of service. I am just past 16.


Any guess who wrote that?

Incentives Not to Work


The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a 'reservation wage'—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase [the] reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer

Comment: It's not easy .... just guess what his relationship to the current administration.

DOW: Back to 11,000

Dow closes above 11,000 for first time since ’08


The Dow Jones industrial average has closed above 11,000 for the first time in a year and a half on investors' rising hopes about the economy.

The Dow edged up about 9 points Monday to almost 11,006. The Standard & Poor's 500 index came within a point of hitting its own milestone of 1,200 during trading but closed just short of that mark.

Comment: My take is that there is some irrational exuberance in the investment community!

Wall Street Journal graphic


Coming: Rising interest rates

Consumers in U.S. Face the End of an Era of Cheap Credit


Even as prospects for the American economy brighten, consumers are about to face a new financial burden: a sustained period of rising interest rates.

That, economists say, is the inevitable outcome of the nation’s ballooning debt and the renewed prospect of inflation as the economy recovers from the depths of the recent recession.

The shift is sure to come as a shock to consumers whose spending habits were shaped by a historic 30-year decline in the cost of borrowing.

“Americans have assumed the roller coaster goes one way,” said Bill Gross, whose investment firm, Pimco, has taken part in a broad sell-off of government debt, which has pushed up interest rates. “It’s been a great thrill as rates descended, but now we face an extended climb.”

The impact of higher rates is likely to be felt first in the housing market, which has only recently begun to rebound from a deep slump. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage has risen half a point since December, hitting 5.31 last week, the highest level since last summer.

Along with the sell-off in bonds, the Federal Reserve has halted its emergency $1.25 trillion program to buy mortgage debt, placing even more upward pressure on rates.

“Mortgage rates are unlikely to go lower than they are now, and if they go higher, we’re likely to see a reversal of the gains in the housing market,” said Christopher J. Mayer, a professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School. “It’s a really big risk.”

Each increase of 1 percentage point in rates adds as much as 19 percent to the total cost of a home, according to Mr. Mayer.

The Mortgage Bankers Association expects the rise to continue, with the 30-year mortgage rate going to 5.5 percent by late summer and as high as 6 percent by the end of the year.

Another area in which higher rates are likely to affect consumers is credit card use. And last week, the Federal Reserve reported that the average interest rate on credit cards reached 14.26 percent in February, the highest since 2001. That is up from 12.03 percent when rates bottomed in the fourth quarter of 2008 — a jump that amounts to about $200 a year in additional interest payments for the typical American household.

With losses from credit card defaults rising and with capital to back credit cards harder to come by, issuers are likely to increase rates to 16 or 17 percent by the fall, according to Dennis Moroney, a research director at the TowerGroup, a financial research company.

Comment: Click through to article for NY Times graphic


Impact on Federal Government

Washington, too, is expecting to have to pay more to borrow the money it needs for programs. The Office of Management and Budget expects the rate on the benchmark 10-year United States Treasury note to remain close to 3.9 percent for the rest of the year, but then rise to 4.5 percent in 2011 and 5 percent in 2012.

Thirty year trend

... steadily dropping interest rates have fed a three-decade lending boom, during which American consumers borrowed more and more but managed to hold down the portion of their income devoted to paying off loans.

Indeed, total household debt is now nine times what it was in 1981 — rising twice as fast as disposable income over the same period — yet the portion of disposable income that goes toward covering that debt has budged only slightly, increasing to 12.6 percent from 10.7 percent.


The long decline in rates also helped prop up the stock market; lower rates for investments like bonds make stocks more attractive.


What Prince did not say

After the Crash, a Crashing Bore


"Let's be real. This is what happened the past 10 years. You, for political reasons, both Republicans and Democrats, finagled the mortgage system so that people who make, like, zero dollars a year were given mortgages for $600,000 houses. You got to run around and crow about how under your watch everyone became a homeowner. You shook down the taxpayer and hoped for the best.

"Democrats did it because they thought it would make everyone Democrats: 'Look what I give you!' Republicans did it because they thought it would make everyone Republicans: 'I'm a homeowner, I've got a stake, don't raise my property taxes, get off my lawn!' And Wall Street? We went to town, baby. We bundled the mortgages and sold them to fools, or we held them, called them assets, and made believe everyone would pay their mortgage. As if we cared. We invented financial instruments so complicated no one, even the people who sold them, understood what they were.

"You're finaglers and we're finaglers. I play for dollars, you play for votes. In our own ways we're all thieves. We would be called desperadoes if we weren't so boring, so utterly banal in our soft-jawed, full-jowled selfishness. If there were any justice, we'd be forced to duel, with the peasants of America holding our cloaks. Only we'd both make sure we missed, wouldn't we?"

Comment: Obfuscation

Vikings deal near?

Vikings stadium deal is heating up in Legislature


A deal to build a new Vikings stadium seems to be gathering momentum at the State Capitol, with a top DFL senator saying Wednesday that "most of the pieces" of a legislative proposal were "pretty much drafted."

Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that he has been working on the bill with others and that there is "plenty of time" to pass it before the Legislature adjourns in mid-May.

Earlier in the day, Vikings President Mark Wilf told a group of business leaders that he was "confident" the National Football League team would be able to strike a deal to obtain public subsidies to build a new stadium.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a controversial $870 million stadium appears to be intensifying, even though no formal legislation has been introduced.

Lester Bagley, who directs the Vikings' stadium development efforts, said Wednesday that a public subsidy request by the team would likely include "a number of different revenue streams" and that legislative leaders along with local business officials were privately conferring over which package would likely get the most support.

There's "progress every day about sorting out how and when to position the issue, and move it forward," Bagley said.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires after the 2011 season, and team officials have said they will not consider an extension without a stadium deal.

In recent months, the team has broadly outlined a proposal to possibly use a metro-wide hospitality tax, divert sales taxes already generated by the team and perhaps even obtain federal stimulus money to help build the stadium.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has increasingly commented on the need to find a stadium solution, floated the idea in February of using proceeds from a state lottery game.

Comment: My own wish, is that any deal that involves new taxes be taken before the voters. I would vote "no"

Tom Petters gets 50 years

Tom Petters gets 50 years


Tom Petters, the onetime larger-than-life Twin Cities businessman, was sentenced Thursday to 50 years in prison for his role as mastermind of a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme, one of the largest in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle said Petters, 52, deserved the long sentence because his crimes destroyed the lives of many investors and damaged the underpinnings of the financial system. It could well be a life term for Petters.

"This was a massive fraud and the defendant's involvement in the fraud was front and center," Kyle said.

Others were involved, the judge added, but "this would not have happened but for his direction and his concurrence with it." Kyle said he didn't believe Petters' testimony at the trial.

Petters stood impassive as the sentence was imposed, and as the judge explained he must serve 85 percent of it before he is eligible for release. Barring a successful appeal, it means Petters would be in prison into his 90s.

Moments earlier, Petters apologized to his family, friends and former employees who have stood by him, more than 50 of whom wrote supportive letters to the judge asking for mercy. He specifically apologized to his daughter, two sons and their two mothers.

"I won't have enough time in my lifetime to thank them enough," Petters said.

He asserted that he tried to cooperate with the government all along, a claim that was rejected as false by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon.

"This is the largest fraud in Minnesota history. Its effects, its devastation can not be overstated," said Dixon, chief of the white collar crime division in the U.S. Attorney's office for Minnesota.

Comment: In my view, justice served!

Another reason for sexual purity

Incurable gonorrhea may be next superbug - Some strains of STD showing signs of becoming resistant to all treatments


Gonorrhea has a long history of evading medicine’s attempts to cure it. In the 1930s, sulfa-based drugs worked, but soon lost potency as the bacteria adapted. Penicillin came up to bat in the 1940s. In New York City, Los Angeles, and points in between, posters appeared stating “Penicillin Cures Gonorrhea in 4 Hours,” sometimes underneath words urging citizens to buy war bonds to “Thrash the Axis.”

Just as defeating Hitler and the Japanese emperor had become an all-consuming national priority, health officials, armed with the new miracle drug penicillin, offered hope that the scourge of “VD” could be wiped out, too.

Penicillin was a miracle, but eventually doctors had to use more and more to kill the bug. Still, a shot of penicillin remained the treatment of choice until 1985, when rising resistance to penicillin, and the fact that many people are allergic to it, forced health officials to give other antibiotics their turns.

But as they did, strains of the bacteria morphed to make the antibiotics less effective. A February report from a group of Taiwanese doctors found that during the five years between 1999 and 2004, 40 percent of gonorrhea isolated from their patients was resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin and ciprofloxacin, all drugs which used to kill off gonorrhea like magic bullets.

The cephalosporins are all that’s left.

In May of 2009, doctors at Sydney, Australia’s Prince of Wales Hospital reported two cases of failed treatment of gonorrhea of the pharynx (typically resulting from oral sex or oral-anal contact). The drug they used is called ceftriaxone, a cephalosporin given by injection. There have also been scattered reports of increasing drug resistance to the most commonly used pill form of cephalosporin, although not in the U.S. so far, said Dr. Kimberly Workowski, associate professor of medicine at Emory University and the CDC’s coordinator of STD treatment guidelines. The CDC monitors the issue through its Gonorrhea Isolate Surveillance Project which receives reports from health clinics all over the country.

Workowski is concerned, though. For one thing, some people who are allergic to penicillin may also be allergic to cephalosporins.

Since people with some forms of gonorrhea may not show symptoms, their partners may have no idea they're infected. The pill form of cephalosporin, which can be used for uncomplicated rectal or urogenital infections, is “only 70 percent effective” in treating pharyngeal gonorrhea, she noted. Since infection of the pharynx often carries no symptoms, people treated for urogenital infection may not know they carry a pharyngeal infection, too. That gives the disease a safe harbor from which it can launch infections of more people.

Comment: Pic is of WWII poster. Hebrews 13:4, is a valuable lesson: "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. ". Another interesting article is here.


50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing

Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax


Tax Day is a dreaded deadline for millions, but for nearly half of U.S. households it's simply somebody else's problem.

About 47 percent will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009. Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability. That's according to projections by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research organization.

Most people still are required to file returns by the April 15 deadline. The penalty for skipping it is limited to the amount of taxes owed, but it's still almost always better to file: That's the only way to get a refund of all the income taxes withheld by employers.

In recent years, credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax.

Tax cuts enacted in the past decade have been generous to wealthy taxpayers, too, making them a target for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Less noticed were tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, which were expanded when Obama signed the massive economic recovery package last year.

The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the country from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners -- households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 -- paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.

The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.

"We have 50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing," said Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Comment: You have to wonder if this is good for our democracy!

At the full market price

Genesis 23:9 & 16


... that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.


Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants


... That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you

Comment: I've seen this trend among some Christians who think that just because they are Christians they should get a discount on things. Need a Realtor ... find a Christian and expect a special break; Need new tires ... find a Christian merchant and expect a break. I'm all for getting the best deal but let's not short change people in the name of our Lord! (We recently had major sections of our home painted by a brother deacon. He gave us a quote and we gave him the full price. Some sections needed extra work not covered by the quote (two coats here or there!). His time was an extra 2.5 hours and we paid him fully for it!

East River Hero: Julien Duret

Hero who helped rescue tot is found


A French tourist who rescued a toddler who fell into New York's East River says he didn't think twice about diving in to save the girl.

Two-year-old Bridget Sheridan fell off a gangplank at the South Street Seaport museum Saturday. Her father, David Anderson, says she slipped through guardrails when he averted his eyes to adjust his camera.

Julien Duret, of Lyon, France, jumped into the water. Anderson followed closely behind. Duret scooped up the girl and gave her to her father.

Comment: Also consider a post from 3 years ago: Subway Hero

Kim Jong-Il: Fashion Plate ... Golf Pro

N.Korea leader sets world fashion trend: Pyongyang


The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang's official website said Wednesday.

Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people's imagination and become a global vogue.

"The reason is that the august image of the Great General, who is always wearing the modest suit while working, leaves a deep impression on people's mind in the world," it said.

"To sum it up, that is because his image as a great man is so outstanding."

The article quoted an unidentified French fashion expert as saying world fashion follows Kim Jong-Il's style.

"Kim Jong-Il mode which is now spreading expeditiously worldwide is something unprecedented in the world's history," the stylist was quoted as saying.

The suits consist of an overall-style zipped-up tunic and matching trousers, usually in khaki or blueish-grey.


Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.

Comment: I like the khaki!


Loonie nears Dollar parity

Canada’s Dollar Trades at Parity for First Time Since July 2008


Canada’s dollar was worth more than the U.S. currency for the first time since July 2008 on the back of the rising price of crude oil and the prospect of higher interest rates.

Canada’s dollar, dubbed the loonie for the aquatic bird on the C$1 coin, last traded at par with the greenback on July 22, 2008, 11 days after crude, the country’s biggest export, reached a record $147.27 a barrel. Oil traded near a 17-month high.

“It’s a perfect storm for the Canadian dollar,” Jonathan Gencher, director of foreign exchange sales at Bank of Montreal in Toronto. “Canadian rates are higher and Canada will be moving before the Fed. Oil is higher. The fundamentals suggest we’ll hang around here for a while.”

The currency gained as much as 0.3 percent to C$99.92 per U.S. cents, and traded at C$1.0001 at 10:19 a.m. in Toronto, compared with from C$1.0022 yesterday. One Canadian dollar buys 99.98 U.S. cents.

The loonie traded on a one-for-one basis with the U.S. currency in September 2007 for the first time in three decades, capping a five-year run on the back of booming demand for the nation’s commodities.

Canada, the largest trading partner of the U.S., has benefited from rising demand for copper, gold, wheat and oil from the U.S. and emerging economies such as India and China. The country is the world’s largest producer of uranium, the second-biggest exporter of natural gas, and sits on the largest pool of oil reserves outside the Middle East. Canada is also the world’s second-largest exporter of wheat.

Comment: Mentioned earlier here. A couple of neat sites if you are interested in exchange rates: OANDA and x-rates


Skybox Subsidies

Throw Out Skybox Tax Subsidies


UNTIL the 1970s, Major League Baseball was a populist sport. Bleacher seats cost as little as a dollar, meaning middle- or even working-class fans could afford to take their families to a game a few times each season.

But in the years since, tickets to baseball games — along with other professional sports events — have skyrocketed in cost. Over the last two decades, the average ticket price for a Chicago Cubs game has increased 265 percent, more than four times the inflation rate. Add in parking, concessions and souvenirs, and a family trip to one of this week’s opening day games could easily cost a few hundred dollars.

There are many reasons for the price explosion, but a critical factor has been the ability of businesses to write off tickets as entertainment expenses — essentially a huge, and wholly unnecessary, government subsidy.

These deductions have led to higher ticket prices in two ways. On the demand side, they have fueled competition for scarce seats, with business taxpayers bidding in part with dollars they save through the deductions.

On the supply side, the large number of businesses bidding for expensive seats has driven the expansion of luxury skyboxes and a reduction in overall seats in new ballparks.

While baseball parks built in the 1960s and before held as many as 56,000 seats, the modern trend is toward smaller-capacity parks, with a higher percentage of total space dedicated to skyboxes. The new Yankee Stadium, the only major-league park built since 2000 with more than 44,000 seats, has 3,000 fewer seats than its 1923 predecessor but almost three times as many skybox suites.

Congress has occasionally expressed concern about deductions for business entertainment, including tickets to sporting events. In 1962, it placed limits on the deductibility of business entertainment generally. In 1986 it restricted the deductibility of luxury skybox tickets to the face value of non-luxury premium tickets, like center-court seats at a basketball game or behind-the-plate seats at a baseball game. For example, if a ticket to a skybox suite cost $500 and a seat behind the plate cost $100, a business could deduct only $100, subject to other limitations on deductibility.

Comment: When I was a kid we would go to Crosley Field in Cincy. The right field bleachers (called the "Sun Deck" during the day and "Moon Deck" at night was $ 1.

Bunny dinner

Tempe restaurant serves controversial course on Easter


A Valley restaurant went ahead with plans to serve a controversial course on Easter Sunday despite receiving death threats.

Caffe Boa in Tempe offers customers a six course meal. All but one of those courses was made with rabbit.

"It's fabulous," said customer Felicia Windsor. "The food is wonderful, the service is great. Bunny is yummy, they're right."

In conjunction with the holiday, Caffe Boa's rabbit-themed menu featured everything from carrot soup with rabbit confit to rabbit-stuffed ravioli.

"For some people, Easter represents certain things, for other people it represents the Easter Bunny, for us it represents food," said owner Jay Wisniewski.

Almost immediately after unveiling their plans last week, Caffe Boa started getting backlash.

Executive chef Payton Curry even received a few death threats.

"Someone told me serving rabbit on Easter was the same as killing me and serving me to my family on my birthday," said Curry.

A protest planned for outside the restaurant Sunday never materialized.

In fact, you could say just the opposite happened.

Caffe Boa expects the Easter menu to bring in more than 500 people for brunch and dinner.

"For us, it just proves there's no such thing as bad publicity," said Curry.

Bad publicity or not, Windsor made sure it didn't keep her from enjoying a tasty meal.

"We heard about the controversy and we decided if there was a picket line we'd be sure to cross it," said Windsor.

Based on the apparent success, Caffe Boa may just make serving rabbit a habit.

Comment - Rabbit recipes: Rabbit Recipes

The people and the story behind Snopes.com

Debunkers of Fictions Sift the Net


David and Barbara Mikkelson are among those trying to clean the cesspool. The unassuming California couple run Snopes, one of the most popular fact-checking destinations on the Web.

For well over a decade they have acted as arbiters in the Age of Misinformation by answering the central question posed by every chain letter — is this true? — complete with links to further research.

The popularity of Snopes — it attracts seven million to eight million unique visitors in an average month — puts the couple in a unique position to evaluate digital society’s attitudes toward accuracy.

After 14 years, they seem to have concluded that people are rather cavalier about the facts.

In a given week, Snopes tries to set the record straight on everything from political smears to old wives’ tales. No, Kenya did not erect a sign welcoming people to the “birthplace of Barack Obama.” No, Wal-Mart did not authorize illegal immigration raids at its stores. No, the Olive Garden restaurant chain did not hand out $500 gift cards to online fans.

The Mikkelsons talk matter-of-factly about why these stories spread the way they do.

“Rumors are a great source of comfort for people,” Mrs. Mikkelson said.

Snopes is one of a small handful of sites in the fact-checking business. Brooks Jackson, the director of one of the others, the politically oriented FactCheck.org, believes news organizations should be doing more of it.

“The ‘news’ that is not fit to print gets through to people anyway these days, through 24-hour cable gasbags, partisan talk radio hosts and chain e-mails, blogs and Web sites such as WorldNetDaily or Daily Kos,” he said in an e-mail message. “What readers need now, we find, are honest referees who can help ordinary readers sort out fact from fiction.”

Even the White House now cites fact-checking sites: it has circulated links and explanations by PolitiFact.com, a project of The St. Petersburg Times that won a Pulitzer Prize last year for national reporting.

The Mikkelsons did not set out to fact-check the Web’s political smears and screeds. The site was started in 1996 as an online encyclopedia of myths and urban legends, building off the couple’s hobby. They had met years earlier on a discussion board about urban legends.

Mr. Mikkelson was a dogged researcher of folklore. When he needed to mail letters requesting information, he would use the letterhead of the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society, an official-sounding organization he dreamed up. They would investigate the origins of classic tall tales, like the legend of the killer with a prosthetic hook who stalked Lovers’ Lane, for a small but devoted online audience.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, users overwhelmed the Mikkelsons with forwarded e-mail claims and editorials about the culprits and the failures of the government to halt the plot, and the couple reluctantly accepted a larger role. They still maintain a thorough list of what they call “Rumors of War.”

Less than a year later, Snopes became the family’s full-time job. Advertisements sold by a third-party network cover the $3,000-a-month bandwidth bills, with enough left over for the Mikkelsons to make a living — “despite rumors that we’re paid by, depending on your choice, the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee,” Mr. Mikkelson said.

Comment: snopes.com


Can Minnesotans escape the "Amazon tax"?

The Sales Tax That Comes Back to Bite


Time was when it was easy for citizens to avoid paying sales taxes on some purchases made online or out of state. Ebay and Craigslist wouldn't be as fun otherwise.

But skirting the law is getting more difficult. Now 24 states, plus D.C., are pricking shoppers' consciences with a special line on the tax return that requests a payment for sales taxes on any goods bought out of state, including those from online retailers—up from 20 states in 2008. Other states collect the tax in a variety of ways, some with special forms that taxpayers are supposed to fill out voluntarily. If, like many, you don't fess up, you may get a bill (see map).

States are trying to recoup some of the $20 billion or so they lose each year to online-sales-tax evasion. The gap exists for a quirky reason: States with sales taxes always have a "use tax" on items residents buy from out-of-state vendors. But a 1992 Supreme Court decision affirmed that out-of-state vendors don't have to collect the tax. It's up to taxpayers to track what they owe. Most don't.

"These rules are poorly understood and they make a lot of people mad," says Jim Eads, head of the Federation of Tax Administrators, a group of state tax officials. He points out that New Mexico even has a law on its books prohibiting enforcement of its use tax.

This year Kansas, Nebraska, West Virginia and D.C. added a line to their 2009 returns asking residents to pay use taxes, according to CCH. Many states warn against leaving the line blank and include a table of "suggested" contributions by income level. In New York, this works out to $78 for a return showing $200,000 of adjusted gross income. Items costing more than $1,000 are supposed to be handled separately.

Such piecemeal efforts will not be necessary if Congress passes a bill many states are pushing for: the Streamlined Sales Tax. States would harmonize their rules (but not necessarily their rates) and then collect tax on outbound sales and send it to the inbound state. So far 23 states have signed on, although holdouts include big ones like California and New York. Lawmakers seemed poised to pass the measure last year before they became preoccupied with health care, but the bill could return.

Minnesota Seeks "Amazon Tax"


Minnesota has become the latest state to consider taxing consumers on internet sales by proposing the so-called "Amazon Tax." House Bill 401/Senate Bill 282 would require retailers with no physical presence in the state to collect sales tax on digital products purchased by Minnesotans and remit it back to the state.

Current federal law bars states from forcing businesses to collect sales tax unless they have a physical nexus in the state. Following New York's lead, the legislation would circumvent the intent of the lawby presuming that a company has a physical nexus if business is solicited through a third-party advertiser that is based in Minnesota.

Comment: Internet Tax Freedom Act. The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax