Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sister Blog

There has been more action at my sister blog Fire Dick Jauron than over here. Do go check it out and pray for the demoralized fans of Buffalo that their deliverance from Dick will soon come.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air from Bronson Arroyo

This is really great. Bronson Arroyo not only admits he used Andro until 2004 and would not be surprised if his name was one of the "magic 104". He also has some of the most level-headed comments on the whole situation I've heard from any active player. No moralizing, just honest. Like this:

"In my mind, I think you have to lump the whole era together," Arroyo said, according to the report. "A lot of people were doing it, a lot weren't. I think pitchers probably gained 3 or 4 mph on their pitches and power hitters got some more power.

"But guys like David and Manny, if they did something, it didn't make them who they were. Did it make them a little better? Probably"

And this:

Before 2004, none of us paid any attention to anything we took," he said, according to the Herald. "Now they don't want us to take anything unless it's approved. But back then, who knows what was in stuff? The FDA wasn't regulating stuff, not unless it was killing people or people were dying from it.

Mike Schmidt, who I love, noted in his book Clearing the Bases (which came out in 2006) that while he didn't try steroids, he could imagine being tempted, especially if everyone else was doing it - due to the competitive edge it may provide (or simply to keep up with the Joneses). It's time for everyone to stop acting surprised that a major league baseball player, particularly one who is paid to hit home runs, would do what the likely majority of his peers was doing, especially when it wasn't banned in baseball, especially when the rules weren't clear on what you could or could not do, and especially where if the roles were reversed, nearly every one of us would have done the same thing (or at least have been tempted).

I also liked this take by Jon Couture.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Bad Samaritan (and the daily, o.k., weekly updates)

The other day, I was stupidly wondering if there was such a thing as a "Bad Samaritan". It doesn't seem to me to be a phrase that is in common usage. I wouldn't say that a Bad Samaritan is necessarily someone who doesn't stop to help another - the help was what made the Good Samaritan good - if he had continued walking down the road, he would have been an Apathetic Samaritan. No, a Bad Samaritan is someone more insidious, someone who actively throws someone else under the bus (think T.O. with the Eagles or Linda Tripp viz a vis Monica Lewinsky).

Come to find out that, of course, the Bad Samaritan already exists in popular culture. Indeed, besides the eponymous DC comic character, we have the book by economist Ha-Joon Chang, decrying capitalism and identifying "rich countries" as bad samaritans (timely!).

Despite these minor cultural references, the phrase is not commonly used. I promise to change this. I hereby am instituting a new "feature" on this here blog, in honor or Marv Albert's "Close Plays of the Month", I will begin the "Bad Samaritan of the Week" award.

Well, next week.

On to the updates.

The Taxes Update

The McCain/Levin Options Bill

Not much new to report since my last post. There are some reactions from the interwebs:

OMB Watch, while noting that the bill is unlikely to reach the Senate floor (not so sure about that), thinks this is a good start to reducing book-tax differences. Well, it may reduce a book-tax difference, but it results in a massive windfall for the IRS, at the expense of corporations who are using stock options to presumably incentivise their employees. It's a stealth tax on corporations (and by extension their shareholders)

The Health Care Tax Update

Lots has happened since my last post on this topic.

Surtax = explicitly limited to millionaries, and probably a nonstarter in the Senate

Repeal of tax exclusion for employer-provided health care = dead, in terms of direct tax, but back-door tax (sorry, "fee") on employers who provide "gold-plated" insurance

Sin taxes on soda, fatty foods, lipo, abortions... = all on the table., although Megan Mcardle hates the idea and the NY Times economix blog questions whether they work.

They probably don't work, at least not at any level that will be politically palatable. Also, they're regressive and I'm not generally a fan of taxes on such personal behavior when it is not precisely clear that the failure to tax is costing society at large.

Some more good links on the tax debate:

Conor Clarke at the Atlantic thinks taxing health care will lower costs in the long run (he's right).

This Washington Post piece is contra.

I linked to it above, but this piece by Len Burman at the Tax Vox Blog is remarkable, going over whether a fee imposed on health insurers, rather than a direct tax on health insurance benefits (with some subsidies for lower income people) is a regressive tax. Really a brilliant post.

Finally, another post from the Tax Vox Blog pointing out, as I have before, that Obama has really painted himself into a corner by promising deficit-neutral reform that also brings costs under control, without imposing taxes on the "middle class".

Unfortunately, this is all a bunch of silliness since there won't be any real vote on any real bill until after the August recess. Still, the level of detail into the tax policy issues is fantastic.

Especially for a tax geek.

The Baseball Update

Yeah, Papi tested positive for steroids. Here is the piece by Michael S. Schmidt (can't believe he is only 25 years old). Here is Papi's statement. Here is some video from NESN.

I don't really care, except that I guess I wish he hadn't been so strident in some of his statements following the A-Rod disclosures. Perhaps he really was blindsided by this as he says.

Anyway, Nomar Garciaparra gave a fascinating (and wide-ranging) interview today after the Sox-A's game. He noted something I had never heard before - that some players essentially told the testers to mark them down as positive for steriods (apparently by refusing the test) so that the overall positive tests came in above 5% (the threshold for mandatory testing starting in 2004). If you listen carefully, it sounds almost as though Nomar is intimating he is one of those guys. Either because it's true, or because he tested positive and is setting up his cover story now.

Oh, and go to hell Dan Shaughnessy. Wonder what the odds are that CHB had this column sitting in his rusty file cabinet for the past 4 years, just waiting, panting, foaming at the mouth, hoping the day would come when he could finally publish it.

The Death Update

Harry Patch, Britain's last living WWI veteran, died this past Saturday, July 25. He was 111. This comes just a bit after WWI's other surviving WWI veteran, Henry Allingham died.

Every once in a while I'll see an article or short piece of the "last" veteran of something, sometimes a war, sometimes, the last person who did a particular job, whatever. If you do the math (WWI ended in 1918, soldiers should have been about 18 minimum to serve), all remaining WWI vets must be at least 109. Actually, god bless Wikipedia, here is the list. Nearly 70 million men served. There are 3 left.

Anyway, the obit is here

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Diiii Heard That - R.I.P. Les Lye

Les Lye, known to people of my generation (at least those of us who lived in or near Canada) as "Barth" from the Canadian TV show You Can't Do That on Television died Tuesday at the age of 84.

He actually played most of the adult characters on the show, notorious for the "sliming" of people when they answered "I don't know" to a question. But chief among them was dirty, crusty diner cook "Barth":

Here is a gallery of various of his characters, strangely hosted by a german tribute site.

I have an odd memory of a particular episode where each character he portrayed smoked - and bad things happened as a result. Apparently he wasn't a smoker and as a coda to the episode, one of the kids interviewed him out of character - he wheezed and coughed like he couldn't breathe to emphasize the evils of tobacco, I guess. I bought it (of course I was 11).

Anyway, I was able to establish my Canadian street cred having watched the show and I'm grateful for his work.

The obit is here

The taxes update was earlier today. The baseball update is off for today as the Sox are off.

I'll end though with the quote of the day, courtesy of Shysterball (describing the Jays-Indians series):
And man, between the Indians putridity and the sense of foreboding surrounding the Jays at the deadline, this series is more depressing than watching "Requiem for a Dream" while listening to a Morrissey box set.


Finally, DeWayne Wise's amazing catch:

McCain, Levin Introduce Bill to Alter Tax Treatment of Stock Options

Senators John McCain and Carl Levin yesterday introduced legislation (S. 1491 - see below for link) which would radically change the way corporations deduct compensation paid to their employees in the form of stock options.

I note that we've been down this road before

Under current law, (Section 83 of the Code), a corporation deducts compensation related to a stock option granted to an employee at the time the employee exercises the option (this is correspondingly the time the employee recognizes the income). The amount of compensation expense (and therefore the amount of the deduction) is the "spread" at exercise - i.e., the difference between the fair value of the stock upon exercise and the exercise price the employee must pay.

The accounting treatment is different - and is the reason for the bill. Under accounting rules, corporations are required to book expense related to stock options upon grant and book the "fair value" of the option (determined under Black-Scholes or some other option pricing model) at the time of grant.

The book expense will often (nearly always) be less than the tax expense. From a financial accounting perspective, companies like this - they show a small expense for book purposes, which has a minor impact on earnings and then get to monetize a much larger expense via the greater tax deduction.*

a few years ago, companies were allowed, for GAAP purposes to book zero expense upon grant, on the basis that the options had no "intrisic" value at grant if they were granted out of the money or "at the money" (i.e., the exercise price was at least equal to the value of the underlying stock at grant). This changed a few years ago and now companies are (rightly) required to book comp expense based on the fair value of the options

The Levin/McCain bill would change current law and limit companies' tax deduction to the amount reported as compensation expense for book purposes.

This makes no sense to me. The employer's tax deduction is based on the compensation its employee includes in income - you have yin and yang. It's fundamental in the tax law that corporations are entitled to deduct compensation paid to their employees (so long as it is not "excessive"). This would alter that fundamental law on the basis that the accounting treatment is different; however, there is no dodge here.

Perhaps the Senators want to steer companies away from making large option grants in the first place:

By eliminating what Levin called an “excessive and outdated corporate tax deduction,” the Michigan senator said, “we would not only eliminate a tax incentive that encourages corporate boards to hand out huge executive stock option pay, but also ensure that profitable corporations do not use outsized tax deductions to escape paying their fair share of the tax burden.”Breaking that parity and tying the comp deduction to the accounting treatment

The deductions are not "outsized". They match the income that employees are reporting and paying tax on. If the link between the employee's income and the deduction is broken, the IRS will have a windfall (unless companies begin to report much higher comp expense for accounting purposes, which seems unlikely).

Perhaps I am missing something, but this strikes me as particularly unfair and silly. If the Senators want to limit stock option grants, then they should limit stock option grants - just make the $100,000 limit applicable to incentive stock options applicable to all stock options (or perhaps choose a greater limit).

Update: Man, the Tax Prof is fast

Further Update: Here is the legislation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big 100th Post Extravaganza

... Not really - I'm pressed for time.

The Baseball Update

Sox picked up Andy LaRoche from Pittsburgh - should slide in to a 3B/PH role and hopefully help out against righties. Sox also picked up Chris Duncan from the Cards for Lugo. Duncan seemingly replaces Mark Kotsay as 5th OF/general 1B utility guy. I hope he does well. Here are some reactions:



Via Leitch on why Sox fans will enjoy Duncan

Jere Smith

Update: More from the Hardball Times on the Duncan deal. And More from Pinto on the same deal.

My take? LaRoche has done much better in the second half than the first half and does reasonably well against righties, and makes a natural platoon w/ Lowell, but this is the definition of a marginal move - how many more runs will Laroche create than Kotsay (who is basically who he is replacing on the roster?) The Duncan move I guess has some upside if he can capture his '07 power, but the Sox did not improve themselves appreciably.

Meanwhile, we have these opposing tweets:

Sports Guy

John Henry

Meanwhile, meanwhile, Sox are down 3-1 as I write this, looking tired. Didn't most of these guys just have a few days off?

The Taxes Update

USA Today got Nancy Pelosi today to say that she could lived with a scaled-back surtax to fund health care. President Obama seemed to be o.k. with that in his presser tonight (while definitively killing the idea of scrapping the tax exclusion for employer-provided health care benefits).

What does this mean? Your taxes will not go up to fund health care unless you make > 500K (for individuals and gay spouses) or 1M (for hetero married couples).

The Death Update

R.I.P. Gidget.

Words fail.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Commando (and the daily updates)

The movie Commando (which happens to be on AMC tonight) stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alyssa Milano, Rae Dawn Chong and Dan Hedaya, among others. Alyssa Milano was 12 when the movie was filmed. Now both she and Governor Schwarzenegger are prominent Californians (Milano has her own clothing line for Chrissakes).

I wonder what it would be like to now be 36 or so, looking at a time capsule of sorts, that is continuously rerun on basic cable. If you didn't like the performance, or the way your rockin mid-80s outfit looked:

Here's the deal - Commando will be shown in heavy rotation on TNT, AMC, Spike, whatever mid-tier basic cable station decides it needs Testosterone Week. I'm sure Milano is getting nice residuals from the movie being shown so much, but it must be at least a little awkward to see your 12 year old self, a bit awkward, definitely not thespian-developed, trying to deliver silly one-liners across from the future Governator.

Maybe the money is really good.

The Baseball Update

Ugh. Sox get knocked out of first by the immortal Tommy Hunter and Jason Jennings. Time for the return of Three things I noticed:

(1) Jacoby Ellsbury will never be a fully successful major league hitter until he learns to take a pitch or two. The 0-4 tonight was partly a product of lack of discipline, particularly on his last at bat - a weak first pitch floater to CF.

(2) I think Francona has gotten a bit tentative with his 'pen in close games. I was surprised he left Beckett out there for the 8th after already getting through 100 pitches (particularly since in the 7th he let the first 2 guys on).

(3) Jere Smith is typically optimistic about the Sox, particularly given that they're sitting in the wild card, even after the loss, and that there is almost half a season yet to play. And yet.. and yet..

it is not traitorous to point out that the Sox have legitimate flaws. They haven't settled on a leadoff guy who can get on base with regularity (the indispensable John Couture pointed out on his blog the other day that the Sox haven't exactly been lighting it up from the leadoff spot. There are other flaws too - obviously the pen is in a bit of a funk. The 5th starter situation isn't fully sorted out. Lester still has bumps (witness last night). Drew and Bay are in a funk. And Ortiz, despite the semi-strong last month, still is not consistently getting the job done.

This is not to say that the Sox are in any danger of missing the playoffs, but a criticism of obvious weak spots and a hope that something is being done to address them (giving Buccholz a longer look is a good sign) is not inconsistent with being a fan.

The Tax Update

On hiatus for tonight.

The Death Update

I honestly had forgotten that we had female pilots in WWII. These were the WASPs (when the WACs were much more well known). Virginia Sweet, who passed away on July 12 at the age of 88, like her fellow WASPs, flew mostly transport and non-combat "ferrying" flights, sometimes in beat-up planes, so male pilots would be available for combat flights. A somewhat sad story, the WASPs didn't get the recognition they deserved (and apparently weren't eligible for the GI Bill when they were done - because they were civilians, but still). Here is an example of the shabby treatment they received:

Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at family expense without traditional military honors or note of heroism. The military would not even allow the U.S. flag to be put on fallen WASP pilots coffins.

The obit is here

Monday, July 20, 2009

John Smoltz and the Big Inning (Plus the Daily Updates)

John Smoltz wasn't exactly mowing them down tonight (although he did get his FB in the low '90s with movement), but he was plenty effective, through 5 IP he had allowed only 4 hits, 3Ks and no walks. Then it all fell apart - 2B, HR, K, 1B, K, HR, HR and he's gone. He ended up throwing 96 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.

This is not a new thing for Smoltz. In his July 6 start against the A's he allowed 4 in the 4th inning (although with less violence - no home runs). And in his first start of the season, against the Nationals (!!!) he allowed 4 in the first.

Scott Baker of the Twins is another guy who's been snakebitten by the curse of the "one big inning". In his 18 starts this season, he's allowed 3 runs or more in a single inning 10 times (including a 5 spot against the Royals). Baker's problem has mostly been the home run ball, with his HR/9IP rate way up over last year.

Now my gut reaction when I see something like that is to say, "well, take away those bad innings and Baker's got a 3 ERA" or "Smoltzy just needs to minimize the damage and he'll be an effective 4th starter".

But that's wrong.

Joe Posnanski makes the point today in a great post that is ostensibly about the Royals injury issues this year, and whether you can lay any of the blame for their horrible year at that door. Joe concludes not.

We will have to get better or make some changes, there’s no other way.”

Trouble is: That’s not the vibe I get from the Royals. Here’s the vibe I get: “Injuries killed us.” And, plainly, that just makes me ill. There’s an old saying: “Winners win and losers meet.” Well, I think it’s also true that “Winners win and losers complain about injuries.” Or “Winners win and losers gripe about umpires.” Or “Winners win and losers make excuses.” Or simply, “Winners win and losers lose."

The One Big Inning is like that. It seems aberrational until it's not. Eventually, the One Big Innings can't be excluded from the calculus. Sometimes a 5.4 ERA is a 5.4 ERA, it's not the product of bad luck. With Baker, yes, his high FB/GB ratio will get him in trouble when the wind is blowing out, and that's a fundamental flaw that will hold him back from his ace status. With Smoltz, it's still too early to tell and the Nats game can be explained away due to first game jitters, but it's not a good sign that the third time through the lineup tonight he wasn't fooling anyone.

The Baseball Update

As I write this, the Sox are down 6-2 and likely heading for the loss. The Yanks won on a walkoff from Matsui tonight. AL East = TIED.

Soxaholix said it best today. I dread the next 3 months if the Yanks pull ahead.

The Taxes Update

Really the Health Care Update, but the National Journal had a great exchange today about the proposed "surtax" on high earners to fund health care. Really good back and forth and enlightening for the views of left of center guys like William Gale:

It is poor leadership because it furthers the myth that we can solve our fiscal problems by taxing “other” people or with gimmick taxes. It has been said many times already and will be said many times again: we are going to need broad based tax increases and spending cuts to bring the fiscal house into order and the more politicians continue to act as if we can just foist the financing on a small group (be it rich people or foreign corporations or obese people or people who drink soda, etc.) the worse are our prospects for solving the problems.

As they say, read the whole thing.

The Death Update

Of course, Walter Cronkite's passing is the most prominent. has a great tribute up (probably over by the time you read this) to Cronkite, an online viewing of the Apollo 11 moon landing with Cronkite's commentary, at exactly the time it happened 40 years ago.

There are plenty of other appreciations of Cronkite on the web - the Atlantic's writers had some good ones.

In other death news - Gordon Waller of the '60s group Peter and Gordon. I have fond memories of listening to "A World Without Love" on the oldies station my dad listened to for a couple of years in the late '80s (Buffalo peeps - 104.1 or 103.3?) on the way to school in the mornings. It is a McCartney song. But despite the poppy, sing songy melody, the lyrics are kind of dark. Sample lyric:
Birds sing out of tune
And rain clouds hide the moon
I'm OK, here I stay with my loneliness
I don't care what they say, I won't stay
In a world without love
I read something the other day asserting that McCartney's songs were lacking in angst. I challenge anyone who's heard "For no One" or "World Without Love" to defend that statement.

Anyway, back to poor Gordon. The obit is here.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Our long national nightmare, yadda yadda yadda...

Julio Lugo has been designated for assignment.

Sox still owe him about $4 million for this year and of course $9 million for next, but it's great to see a major league GM recognize the concept of sunk costs. Truly addition by subtraction.

No Lugo post would be complete without a pic of his stellar defensive skillz:

More Health Care Tax Reax

Matt Yglesias wants to cap deductibility of itemized deductions and double the federal alcohol tax. I think this would be more expensive for me than the surtax.

Ezra Klein, in an otherwise snarky set of "rules" for commenting on the CBO's testimony yesterday thinks health insurance benefits should be subject to tax.

Conor Clarke likes both.

Awesome takedown by The Awl of a ridiculous NY Post story yesterday on the effect on NY taxpayers of the surtax.

And Seton Hall law professor Frank Pasquale arguing that the 5.4% surtax on millionaires is not high enough!!!.

Hysterics aside, what he means is that we should have more tax brackets and not tax someone earning $350,000 the same as someone earning $35,000,000. I.e., there's the "rich" (although reasonable people can disagree whether a family bringing in $350,000 is "rich" or just "well off") and the RICH (think Bill Gates or Warren Buffett). Even the most dedicated redistributionist can see differences between those words (for one, I capitalized the second version of "rich"). (via Tax Prof Blog)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fill it to the Rim... With Brim..

Some random thoughts while wondering what the hell ever happened to Brim coffee...

The Taxes Update

Head. Spinning.

More fallout from the House's "surtax" proposal. Another great post by Howard Gleckman at the Tax Vox blog. Here is a sample:

Why take cash compensation that could face a top rate of more than 45 percent when you could easily get more tax-free health insurance? Forget Cadillac plans. Now we’re talking Lamborghini coverage

A micro example of the macro problem - it's entirely possible that high earners will seek to shift their income into non-taxable income or deferred income arrangements - more expensive health employer-provided health insurance is just the most ironic example.

Which leads me to the other big piece of news - CBO head Douglas Elmendorf testified in front of the Senate Budget Committee today and essentially told them that the plan put forth by the House yesterday not only will not control costs, but will raise health care costs due to the public plan proposed, and as a result, they will not be paid for.

So how did he suggest tax reform be paid for? He dropped the bomb:

Asked what provisions should be added, Elmendorf suggested changing the way Medicare reimburses providers to create incentives for reducing costs. He also suggested ending or limiting the tax-free treatment of employer-provided health benefits, calling it a federal "subsidy" that encourages spending on ever-more-expensive health packages.

Of course the problem is the administration is dead set against such a change (it would be a tax raise on people earning <$250K which Obama foolishly promised not to do when a candidate). Senator Baucus blamed the Obama administration for limiting the Senate's options in taking this option off the table.

Some other reactions to the surtax:

Robert Reich likes it.

Nancy Pelosi says the rate is negotiable.

The Baseball Update

Very strange that so many teams are off after a 3 day break, so no Sox game to report on tonight. So here are some random thoughts on some random happenings today:

Ryan Howard fastest to 200 home runs (in terms of games played). As David Pinto pointed out today, in terms of age, he's nothing special. My prediction on lifetime home runs for Howard? 389.

This piece by Allen Barra came out a few days ago, but I can totally get behind the premise. After all, my twitter icon is a doctored '77 Mike Schmidt baseball card.

Finally, if you aren't already checking out Jon Couture's brilliant blog Better Red than Dead blog, well.. what are you waiting for. Best recaps on the web.

The Death Update

Ron Nicolino, 69, of San Francisco. A very interesting gentleman/artist. Some choice bits from the obit:

"And as an artist, Mr. Nicolino achieved international attention for his work with breasts and brassieres, including most notably the "Big Giant Bra Ball" - like a rubber band ball, but bigger and made of undergarments."

"In the mid-1990s, he got the idea to string bras across the Grand Canyon."

"His efforts also included creating a milelong line of sand breasts along Stinson Beach in 1994, with hundreds of volunteers using Size 34C plastic molds.

"When the tide came in, it washed it all away and the sand was smooth again. It was a very nice day," his mother said."

Now if Jeff Koons would adopt a bit of Mr. Nicolino's vision, I could get behind his "art".

Finally, a classic Brim commercial for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Seeding the Tip Cup (and the daily updates)

The other day, I was buying some groceries in my neighborhood C Town (149th and B'way!). All grocery stores in Manhattan are local, but C Town is local-er than most. All of the checkout girls (and they are all girls) live in the neighborhood and on Sunday there was at least 1 teenage boy bagging at each checkout aisle.

Now I remember reading a story in the Times a while back exposing a "scandal" prevalent in neighborhood grocery stores - baggers working purely for tips and not getting paid minimum wage. It's not clear if the kids at C Town are volunteering, looking for some spare coin to buy soda and comics*, or whether they are getting paid under the table, or what. What is clear, however, is that each station has a little plastic dish for tips.

*Do kids still buy comics? I bought pretty lame comics when I was a kid - mostly the conventional superhero type - Superman, Green Lantern, Spiderman, with lots of ads in the back for direct sale programs. I never got into the X-Men or Fantastic 4 or certainly not any of the alternative comics. If not comics these days, what are kids spending their hard earned grocery bagging tip money on?

There is a psychology to tipping that I learned as an oyster shucker in Faneuil Hall in Boston - this is called "seeding the tipjar". Lounge piano players, subway performers, panhandlers, all know that people are more likely to give someone money when they either see someone else giving, or see (via the seeded tip cup) that someone else has already. Now I am not the first to notice this, but it is not a staple solely of your local Starbucks.

The nudge blog asks what is the optimal amount seeding the tip jar to get the ball rolling. In my experience, it's not any particular amount - its more important to have a reasonable volume (but not too much, lest people think you've been tipped enough!) of small bills. A few crinkled ones in a 16 oz plastic cup usually was the routine when I worked at the Walrus and Carpenter 15 years ago.

Unfortunately the C Town kids didn't get the memo. Their tip bowl was empty when I arrived and empty when I left.

Of course, I didn't have any cash on me at the time.

The Baseball Update

President Obama did not bounce the first pitch. I don't care where Pujols was standing. President Obama's candor in the announcer booth was much more interesting ("we're out of money").

Hey, some Red Sox Blog links:

Red Sox Chick (blogging at Weei!!) on the relative lack of Red Sox participation in the ASG.

Red Sox Dad on the Sox all stars meeting the Prez.

Jere from Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory with a nice remembrance of watching the '83 ASG with his dad.

The Taxes Update

Seems like there may be some sort of tax hike proposed to fund health care reform? Anyone else know anything about this?

Recent coverage on other blogs:

Citizens for Tax Justice release (warning - pdf file). Editorially, the idea that it is tax justice for certain (but not all) taxpayers to be forced to "give back" some of the tax cuts they have received over the past decade is not "justice". That's a retroactive tax.

Don't Mess With Taxes also pointing out the multiple states in which a 50% marginal rate will be the new high. predicting that the surtax will never be enacted (I agree - and so does the taxgirl, I believe.

Finally, Megan McArdle with her thoughts.

The Death Update

After not blogging about my dad for a long long time, I had a weird dream last night - one of the increasingly rare dreams where he is an active present, walking, talking, like nothing ever happened - and I am always grateful that somehow he is among the living again. But this time, in my dream, I was reasoning with my brother, my mother, trying to get at whether he was really alive or not (again, in my dream). In my dream, we all saw him and thought he was there, but it turned out that we were each, separately, having Sixth Sense moments, when one of us saw him, it didn't mean the others did. We each were dreaming within my dream.

I feel like my subconcious had some sort of resolution.

Either that or I've got to cut down on the gin at night.

Your obit of the day belongs to Reggie Fleming, a hard-nosed hockey player from the 60s. He easily could have been the inspiration for Reggie Dunlop in Slap Shot, but apparently the first name was just a coincidence. He played professionally for 20 seasons (12 in the NHL) and led the league in penalty minutes his last season. Now that is dedication.

The obit is here

The Economist on the Surtax

From the Economist's Free Exchange blog today:

For me, the biggest concern is that Congress seems to have followed the path of least resistence here and it may do so again in the future. Recall that America has a fairly significant structural deficit, which will only grow as the population ages. American also has fairly significant need for large-scale investment in things like infrastructure and education. Revenues are going to have to rise to avoid a budget crisis somewhere down the road. And that means that taxes will have to rise.

Exactly. Some very good comments to this piece as well, including this:

if I were in the upper 1.2% (I'm not), with the fungibility of money, I'd be left with the feeling that my surtax might just as well be apportioned to subsidizing ethanol producers, or some other tremendous waste of resources.

Olbermann is much smarter than McCarver

Keith Olbermann provides one possible answer for the AL's recent dominance over the NL:

Finally, the All-Teams-Represented anachronism -- a rule left over from the days when it was assumed television viewership in each city depended on a representative from the team in each city -- clearly hurts the National League. It might not show up in a given game, but over the course of the twelve years since the 16/14 split began, this must have an impact: the NL is stuck with two more Mandatory Choices, each year, than is the AL. Tonight, the question was, which of the four solo NL guys - Francisco Cordero, Ted Lilly, Brian McCann, or Ryan Zimmerman - was ultimately of less use to Charlie Manuel than, say, a Mark Reynolds pinch-hit appearance might have been?

Well, it's 2 of the four, actually, and Manuel certainly did have some flexibility to take a Mark Reynolds (??) or Matt Kemp (yes) over Ryan Howard, Ryan Franklin or Jason Marquis, each of whom were manager's picks. Still, a brighter analysis than McCarver's

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Prince Fielder, PETA and the Truism about Publicity (and the daily updates)

Darren Rovell twittered last night that PETA would be happy with noted vegetarian Prince Fielder's win in the Home Run Derby.

They were.

Is it just me, or doesn't it seem like 80% of PETA's news releases are what people would call "puff pieces". Perusing the last 20 or so news releases on PETA's media center, I see the following hard hitting stories: Prince Fielder's home run derby win, Carol Liefer coming out as a Vegan, Woody Harrelson doing god knows what, Playboy playmate hosting veggie dog lunch, bikinis, sexy lettuce, and something called "bloody syrup" (apparently an objection to seal killing in Canada - yeah I don't get it either).

Are these actually successful press releases for PETA? Do they actually get attention? Do they raise money? At some point the cuteness factor must wear off, no? Yes, we liked the first 20 or 30 spots of a supermodel promising to go naked before she would wear fur (with Pics!!!), but eventually, the tongue-in-cheek too-cute-by-half copywriting and ultimately silly messaging (hey, maybe you should stop eating meat to be stronger!!!) would seem to be counter-productive. They undermine the seriousness of PETA's mission and raise questions about its credibility.

PETA has to walk a fine line. Its mission is basically to improve animal welfare and reduce animal cruelty. Most animal cruelty takes place on the factory farms and in the testing labs. People don't want to hear about that though - I imagine PETA has decided they get more traction with puff pieces than with exposes, or even worse, guerrilla operations against farms. The pieces though distract from PETA's message and in some cases seem to make light of it (nobody really thinks that Fielder's vegetairianism helped him win the Derby - so what's the point besides a cheap laugh?)

It seems like the ASPCA walks the line better - affecting spots with Sarah McLachlin, tugging on people's heartstrings with the shots of the poor abused puppies. Yeah, that's not exactly PETA's mission - I think PETA's plank technically would not allow for domesticated animals either - but it is a credible approach, not snarky and was a proven money maker.

This is a long way of saying I wonder if the old truism of all PR being good PR is still true? For an arguably "fringe" group like PETA, is it more important to make sure people know you're still around than to provide a credible argument/release (whereas ASPCA is surely more well regarded than PETA so does not care as much about exposure)? Or are today's consumers so well informed and looped in that they will tune out obviously hacky BS like the Prince Fielder PR linked above?

The Baseball Update

Short one tonight - just a classic case of Tim McCarver idiocy.

President Obama asked McCarver and Buck why they thought the AL had won the last 12 all star games. Now the answer was probably simply a combination of luck and the talent in the AL being somewhat better than the NL the past decade. McCarver said that he thought the NL was catching up, but that the AL had a head start due to the DH. Just let that sink in for a second.

This was idiotic on so many levels. First, the DH has been around since '73. Second, the DH is used by both leagues in AS games played in AL parks. Third, the NL went 13-1 from '72 to '85, during which time the AL had the DH. I really can't imagine what McCarver was thinking. Actually, I'd rather not try.

The Taxes Update

I've already blogged on taxes today. I note though that Taxgirl noticed something I didn't - the surtaxes suggested by the House today apply to investment income as well as wages - basically, once again, resulting in a 45% max marginal rate on wages and a 25% max rate on cap gains and dividends (if Obama's proposals on cap gains and dividend tax rates come to fruition).

Greg Mankiw adds sales and state/local taxes to arrive at a top marginal rate above 50%. I think we're already there in California by that math, actually.

Update: Howard Gleckman at the Tax Vox blog has a very good post on the topic.

The Death Update

Samuel Genensky, a near blind inventor and mathematician for the Rand corporation who invented a precursor technology to the magnification devices currently in use by the partially sighted.

I thought this quote from him was interesting:

“When the partially blind went out in the world, they found that they either got no services at all or services that were appropriate for people who were totally blind,’’ Mr. Genensky told an interviewer this year. “Neither of these alternatives made much sense to me.’’

I find it is true in all walks of life that the benefits we provide people are at the margins - the high achievers and the low achievers. I guess the idea is that the rest will muddle through - not a perfect analogy because here we are talking about the somewhat disabled (partially sighted) vs. the obviously disabled (the blind), but I do think as a society we provide more accommodation for the obvious cases than the harder, less obvious cases.

Oh, and as a parent who hated the mandatory ointment requirement for newborns, this is haunting:

His eyes were burned shortly after birth when a delivery room nurse accidentally administered the wrong eyedrops to guard against infection.

Yeah. Um, sorry? The obit is here.

Health Care Reform to be Funded with Evergreen Proposals

According to a briefing service I get at work, the $1 trillion health care overhaul bill just released in the House would be paid for mostly by the surtaxes on the "rich", but also with a few other offsets that keep finding their way into various legislation from time to time.

The offsets are as follows:

--$540 billion from a surtax on households earning more than $350,000 (starting at 1% for couples earning >350K, 1.5% for couples earning b/w 500K and 1M and 5.4%!!!! for couples earning more than 1M.  This would bring the top marginal rate post-expiration of Bush's tax cuts to 45%;

--$8.1 billion from the codification of the economic substance doctrine;

--$22.3 billion from a delay of the implementation date of the worldwide interest allocation provision put into law in 2004; and

-- unclear amounts from provisions relating to sale-in, lease-out transactions.

Now, I'm no mathematician, but those numbers aren't going to add up to $1 trillion, which makes me think that included in the offsets must be the limitation on itemized deductions for high-earners.  We'll see once the bill comes out.  That 45% top marginal rate will be the headline in tomorrow's news though.

Update: More here at the taxprof blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Death, Taxes and Such

Well it's been too long since I've updated, and it may be months again since I do another update, but I have a few minutes, so here goes..

The Baseball Update

David Pinto is doing a quick series over on Baseball Musings, reviewing each major league team at the all star break. So far, he's tackled just the AL West, but eventually he'll get to the Sox. He presents how a team ranks in several stats, OBP, SLG, etc. I remember as a kid noticing the Sox always seemed to be at the top of the league in AVG and 2Bs, but at the bottom of the pack in SBs. This is not news.

The interesting thing (to me) is how much the team has changed since those days (and even since '04 or so). Now, Sox are middle of the pack in AVG, but toward the top in SBs (the perennial success in 2Bs must be a function of the park).

Again, this is not news. Everyone knows that Theo Epstein has made a point of emphasizing OBP and, apparently, has embraced the speed game more than his predecessors (of course, it helps that he has Ellsbury who has by himself more than 1/2 of the team's stolen bases). This is to his credit, but I don't think he gets enough credit. It's one thing to espouse a philosophy, it's another to successfully implement it. And Epstein's been able to do that in spades.

The Taxes Update

For me, it's all health care, all the time. Taxgirl, the Tax Vox Blog, Kausfiles and Robert Ross at HuffPo all had interesting posts in the past few days regarding the various tax initiatives being put forth to fund health care reform

David Brooks had a great op-ed last week noting that the combination of the various tax increases leave Obama with precious little dry powder for future domestic spending initiatives.

I agree with this. To review the bidding, Obama has already proposed/assumed that the Bush tax cuts on individuals earning over $250K will expire in 2011. Added to that since he ran are: (i) a cap on the deductibility of itemized deductions for high earners, (ii) a "surtax" from 1% to 3% on income over $350,000 (ramping up based on income) which Rangel introduced last week (iii) a potential cap on the tax exclusion of employer-provided health insurance (for plans that cost > $25K/year in premiums) and (iv) rumblings about imposing payroll taxes on capital gains and dividends (i.e., nonwage income).

Neither Obama nor Congress has seriously considered any tax increases on the middle class (such as the total repeal of the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance).

The price tag for the increased coverage Congress is discussing (which would *not* be universal) is ~$1 trillion (CBO estimate from July 3 reported $600M, but the $1T number is still the one that is most widely reported). Apparently gone is the argument that reform will actually save money (probably for good reasons politically, there was already too much discussion of which end of life interventions would not be covered by government provided health insurance due to lack of "efficiencies" - see below).

I am not morally against a tax hike to fund comprehensive health care coverage, but so far, the plans put forth would not accomplish that goal. It seems to me that if you are willing to wager the rest of your domestic policy agenda (because that is what Obama would be doing if all of the above tax hikes are necessary for a credible plan to be passed, which would leave room for no further hikes, probably including the expiration of the Bush tax cuts), then the payoff had better be more impressive than even the most recent CBO estimates of the increase in the number of people covered in this country. It had better be damned close to universal coverage (Medicare for all, as Mickey Kaus calls it).

I don't think that's what we will see.

The Death Update

Michael. Farrah. Ed. Oxy-Clean. Karl. Robert. Steve. And Waldo.

That would be Waldo McBurney, America's oldest worker. He was 106. He worked from age 13 to age 104. He took up distance running when he was 65.

I was listening to an Adam Carolla podcast on the way home from work tonight and in it he said he had asked his friend Dr. Drew, what was with the health care reform debate - what all the controversy was about, why costs were rising so much. Dr. Drew's answer was simple(istic). Everyone is living longer than expected. This *can* partially explain shortfalls in corporate and public pensions and of course the coming disasters in Medicare and Social Security. The cost issue though is extremely loaded when you start to bring patient age into the equation - issues of rationing and treatment decisions made by reference to the efficiency (or necessity) of a given treatment. Who knows how much "extra" costs we all bore to help Mr. McBurney live to 106. Surely he wasn't getting there solely on "juices and berries".

It's a difficult question. When dad finally accepted his likely fate (late stage small cell lung cancer), he decided he didn't want to pursue more chemo or crap that would just make him feel sicker than he was. That was his decision though. I can't imagine (and we're a LONG way in the discussion from this) someone else making that decision for him. Obama alluded to this in a discussion of his grandmother - even when it was clear she would not make it, she had a hip replacement. He admitted that he would pay for the procedure himself, but what if someone can't pay. As a lawyer, I hate slippery slope arguments and believe that we as rational humans don't need bright lines because we should be able reason between different cases based on their own facts, but that's much easier to do in the dry world of tax where it's just money, ultimately, and not someone's cancer-infected dad.


This conversation on is a good primer on where the Obama Administration (and Stephen Colbert, er, Peter Orszag in particular) thinks the cost savings will come from.

In addition, this blog post by Orszag lays out the ground rules for health reform being "deficit neutral". This is the corner they've painted themselves into.

Great Trivia Question (courtesy of Rob Neyer)

Who is the only MVP to never have made an all-star team (for MVPs named after the introduction of the ASG, obviously).

Check out Neyer's post to find out.

O.k., I'll tell you:  Kirk Gibson.  My first guess would have been Willie Hernandez from '84.  Right team, wrong guy.