Monthly Archives: March 2011

I Think He’s Shrill

There is no state, no nation, no planet, and no universe where it should be legal to pay off a Legislature directly.

There is no government in which a sworn lawmaker should be able to take unlimited payoffs from those seeking favorable treatment.

And yet this is now precisely the law of Florida.

In Sunday’s column I called the Florida Legislature "the Whore of Babylon" for passing a law last week that legalizes its own bribery.

It is now legal in Florida for the leaders of our House and Senate, of both the Republican and Democratic parties, to operate what are laughably called “leadership funds.”

If you are an interest group in Florida, a corporation, a lobbyist seeking favor, you go to these “leadership” funds run by lawmakers …

And you pay them.

— Howard Troxler, St. Petersburg Times, Let's say it again: They are for sale . (Spotted via the Buzz)

So it turns out it’s not just Florida’s Governor who can turn people into slavering wrecks, it’s the legislature too. And although these votes were dominated by the GOP, they were also plenty of Democrats going along with it all. Actually, I mis-read the vote: it was a party-line vote. This is a GOP production all the way.

Posted in Florida | Leave a comment

Value of Parachutes Subjected to Meta-Analysis

Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials by Smith and Pell at 327BMJ 1459 (18 December 2003)

Of course this study is eight years old, so it is possible that someone has gotten a grant to plug this hole in our knowledge.

(spotted via David Gray)

PS For a second there I thought this would be about golden parachutes, but no such luck.

Posted in Completely Different | 1 Comment

Bill Cronon Blogs About the Attack on Academic Freedom in Wisconsin

The author of The Changes in the Land, the path-breaking book on early American environmental history blogs about the why everyone should be concerned about McCarthyist (yes, McCarthyist) tactics being employed in Wisconsin (yes, ironically, in Wisconsin) by the the state Republican party.

See Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom | Scholar as Citizen for the details.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Leave a comment

Time for an AMT for Big Corporations?

GE pays no US taxes. Do we need an Alternate Minimum Tax for corporations?

Individuals often use tax-avoidance strategies to reduce their personal income taxes. Concerned that all the loopholes were eroding revenue collection, Congress enacted the Alternate Minimum Tax, which is supposed to be a floor on the amount that people would have to pay.

Wikipedia, which I recognize is probably not the ideal source for this, summarizes the AMT as follows:

AMT is computed at 26% or 28% for individuals and 20% for corporations on taxable income as adjusted for AMT. Taxpayers are allowed a flat exemption amount but not personal exemptions or the standard deduction. The exemption for 2010 is $72,450 for married couples filing jointly or a qualified widower, $36,225 for married individuals filing separately, $47,450 for single individuals, and $40,000 for corporations, and is phased out at higher incomes. Individuals may not deduct taxes or miscellaneous itemized deductions, depreciation deductions are computed using longer lives and slower methods, other adjustments apply. The AMT rate for capital gains and qualified dividends currently is the same as the regular tax rate for such items. A foreign tax credit and eight other business credits are allowed to reduce AMT.

GE makes a lot of money, much of it in the US, but structures its business to escape corporate tax. Why not have a rule similar to the personal AMT for very large corporations, say those with revenue over $500 million or $1 billion to start? Or perhaps with profits — if we could define that term much more rigorously than used in the current tax code — over some suitably large number.

I recognize that the personal AMT has critics, some making legitimate points. AMT is not indexed, so the bite goes deeper into the upper middle class every year (I could see that as a bug or a feature). AMT reduces the economic effects of various deductions which are supposed to give incentives for activities we claim to want to encourage. That’s true, but the idea is that allowing too much tax avoidance is a worse evil.

Some legitimate criticisms of the personal AMT wouldn’t apply to a corporate AMT. For example, the AMT undermines the effect of the child tax deduction and hurts taxpayers living in high-tax state since they are worse off from not getting to deduct their state taxes. Those won’t I think be issues for big corporations which just have subsidiaries instead of children, and tend to be present in all states.

A rule taxing gross sales rather than net profits has the advantage of being harder to game, but also runs into the problem that there are some corporations with huge turnover but also huge losses. A rule that taxed actual profits runs into the problem that giant firms like GE already use accounting games to make their profits appear to happen in low-tax foreign jurisdictions. These are not easy problems to solve, but isn’t it is time to address them?

The personal AMT notoriously doesn’t consider the effect of foreign taxes. I don’t know how that would or should work for a corporate AMT, especially given existing tax treaties. If the tax is on domestic sales, that may not be as much of an issue. If the tax is profits, domestic or world-wide, the foreign tax issue will matter.

Tax law is far from one of my strong suits, so I invite instruction on that and all the other points above.

Posted in Econ & Money | 3 Comments

AT&T to Institute Usage Caps & Overage Charges on DSL — Even Though It Can’t Meter Accurately

Broadband Reports has the scoop about the dominant DSL provider here in South Florida: AT&T To Impose Caps, Overages Notices To Go Out This Week, Capping Begins May 2.

AT&T will be implementing a new 150GB monthly usage cap for all DSL customers and a new 250 GB cap on all U-Verse users starting on May 2. From March 18 to March 31, AT&T users are going to be receiving notices informing them of the change in the company’s terms of service. AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom confirmed the news to Broadband Reports after we initially contacted him last Friday concerning a leaked copy of the upcoming user notification. According to Bloom, the cap will involve overage charges. However, only users who consistently exceed the new caps will have to deal with these charges.

But it seems that AT&T’s usage meters are not real accurate: AT&T Users Already Complaining About Inaccurate Meters because, as IT World reports, AT&T Internet usage billing off by as much as 4,700%.

How does one find out how much bandwidth AT&T thinks we (a family of four with two teenagers) are using? Does this mean I’ll have to switch to (yuk!) Comcast? Wait, they have a cap too, as well as evil politics. Well, how about the number three player in the household DSL market. Wait, there isn’t one, due to Bush administration policies that killed off all the competitors (the evil Brand X decision), policies the Obama crowd hasn’t had the guts to try to change, probably due to an accurate assessment that the incumbents own the legislature on this issue.

I tried logging into myusage.att.com [CORRECTED] to find out what AT&T thinks we are using. It took me a long time to figure out what my login and password were, and when I finally ran the gauntlet, all I got was this message:

AT&T is not able to capture usage data on all of its customers. Customers whose usage is not available for viewing should not be concerned about their usage patterns for billing purposes.

To learn more about how to manage your usage, please visit www.att.com/internet-usage

I presume that means we are not near the caps despite teenage online TV-watching?

Posted in Internet, Shopping | 2 Comments

Florida Governor Gets the Respect He Deserves

Political Animal’s The moral of the story: don’t elect a criminal to be governor is full of both bon mots and painful truths about Governor Voldemort.

Posted in Florida, Health Care, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Leave a comment

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Takes a Star Turn as GOP Policy Weathervane

Words cannot express my joy at being represented in Congress by this paragon of consistency and statecraft that is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Why, just consider the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from reading stories like this:

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., endorsed a no-fly zone in a Feb. 26th press release when she said “stronger penalties must be imposed in order to hold the regime accountable for its heinous crimes, and to prevent further violence against the Libyan people. Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone…”

But after the President imposed the no-fly zone, on March 20th, Ros-Lehtinen had concerns which she expressed in a new press release.

“I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya,” she said.

I happen to think that the second position is more sensible than the first, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were some principles (other than the destructive one of a will to power) driving the modern GOP?

(Meanwhile, three wars now. And counting.)

Posted in National Security, Politics: FL-25/FL-27, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 1 Comment