In a long piece, the New York Times looks at Michigan’s efforts to persuade Hollywood to make films there through enormous subsidies. It didn’t fail—worse, it succeeded. The state lost money hand over fist in the process. Paying businesses to relocate to your state or city is a huge waste, 99% of the time. →
- Bloomberg: Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales
The Koch Brothers have secretly, criminally sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, an enemy of the United States with whom it is unquestionably illegal to do business. This is no aberration for these bastards—they're out for a buck, and they don't care how they get it.
- Commonwealth Data Point: Expenditures by Agency
Wondering what the state spends its money on? Here's the state's checkbook, by agency, so read to your heart's content. A warning: good luck with the weird menu system. Somebody apparently thought that rather than menu items, it would be fun to just give people a single letter to try to decipher. O? F? S? P? I don't get it.
- MSNBC: Bachmann condemns Arab Spring, blames it on Obama
If stupid were bricks, she'd have a lot of bricks.
- Washington Post: Poll Finds Public Wary on Tax Cut
The A1 headline in the Washington Post on the morning of September 11, 2001 was for this prescient story: "A majority of Americans say they are prepared to roll back President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut to help deal with the shrinking federal budget surplus and say Bush more than congressional Democrats bears responsibility for a problem that has suddenly put him on the defensive."
- Commonwealth of VA vs. Kathleen Sebelius
I recommend a quick reading of the Fourth Circuit Court's smackdown of Ken Cuccinelli. The decision starts on page 17, and it reads like a Constitutional Law 101 lesson, one that Cuccinelli needs badly. "The sole provision challenged here—the individual mandate—imposes no obligations on the sole plaintiff, Virginia." End of story.
- Wall Street Journal: Many Afghans Shrug at ‘This Event Foreigners Call 9/11’
In two Afghani provinces, 92% of 15–30-year-old men surveyed had never heard of September 11th. Keep in mind that few people have access to newspapers or television (TV was banned by the Taliban), that many Afghanis were young children when it happened, and that many of them probably find it preposterous that a building could be so tall that thousands of people could die in one.
- Wall Street Journal: Waffle House Index Measures Hurricane Recovery
Their approach to disaster recovery is impressive. People have to eat, Waffle House wants to make money—everybody wins.
- Wikipedia: Bunyip
There's a widespread Australian Aboriginal belief in the "bunyip," a terrifying, water-dwelling mythological creature. It's theorized that these stories arose from occasional discoveries of fossilized bones from any of the many enormous prehistoric marsupials that could be found wandering around Australia until about 40,000 years ago.
- New York Times: Where Pay for Chief Executives Tops the Company Tax Burden
A study of the Fortune 100 has found that at least 25 of them paid their CEO more last year than they paid in federal taxes. eBay, Boeing, GE, and Verizon all made the list. This makes it rather difficult to takes seriously claims of excessive taxation of major U.S. businesses.
- Reuters: How I misread News Corp’s taxes
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston broke a story earlier this week about how News Corp had received $4.8B in income tax refunds over the past four years, while paying nothing. Turns out he was entirely wrong. What he'd written was the opposite of the truth. News Corp changed how they report their tax payments on their financial statements—switching from positive to negative numbers—and that was how it all started. Further confusing matters, Johnston contacted News Corp about his conclusions, and they had no quarrel with it. To Johnston's credit, he's going on the same press tour he went on a few days ago, trying to make the story of his mistake as big as his incorrect initial story.
- CSS Sprite Generator
Upload a ZIP file full of images, it returns with a file full of sprites and the relevant CSS. It's a great little tool!
- Thirty Thousand: The Population Size of U.S. House Districts by Year and by Congress from 1790 to 2100
This website, which advocates returning the House of Representatives to its 1793 rate of representation, provides this chart of the average population per U.S. House district from its founding until 2010. The chamber was envisioned—and created—to have each member represent 30,000 people. Congress fixed the number of seats at the arbitrary number of 435 back in 1929, and congressmen have come to represent more and more people ever since. It now stands at 710,000 people and climbing.
A pet peeve of mine: Politicians who insist on talking about what “the American people” want, and what “the American people” think. Every politician who says that believes that—in a striking coincidence—what the American people want happens to be precisely what said politician wants.
Never noticed this? You will now. You can hear an example of this in All Things Considered’s interview with Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) this evening, in which he says:
The American people know that tax increases don’t create a single job. […] The American people are not interested in having the tax [sic] increased, the American people understand that Washington spends way too much money, and we need to get our fiscal house in order…
(Also alarming in this story is Price’s response to a question from host Melissa Block as to whether the failure to raise the debt ceiling would be an economic calamity, to which he responds: “I don’t know—we’ve never been in this situation.”)
A good politician will take about what he thinks and what he thinks is right for the country. A suck-up politician leans on his claims about what “the American people” think—meaning that either he’s governing by poll results or he’s pretending to govern by poll results. You can decide which is worse.
- WordPress Publisher Blog: A complete publishing system on WordPress
The Bangor Daily News managed to turn WordPress and Google Docs into an entire newspaper publishing system, by using a bunch of plugins to create an editorial workflow. Having written a lot of code to perform this very task, I'm really impressed by this. Better still, it all integrates with InDesign, and all of the plugins are open sourced. Bravo!
- Joel Stein: How Jewish is Hollywood?
- Washington Post: Congressional Budget Office warns of debt explosion
The CBO reports that threre's a simple solution to our budget problem: let the Bush tax cuts expire.
- New Scientist: Lab yeast make evolutionary leap to multicellularity
In just 60 days, yeast cells became multicellular, dividing labor between cells. Apparently this isn't nearly as complicated or unlikely as some evolutionary theorists believed.
- Texas Tribune: Counting Confusion Keeps Texas Cowboy Confined
I've become a real fan of the Texas Tribune, the new nonprofit news outfit in Austin, and this story is a good example of why. It's a pleasure to read, with some nice turns of phrase, and some great quotes from the subject of the article. I came across this in the New York Times, which has started to syndicate the Tribune's stories.
- Public Policy Polling: A deeper look at the birthers
A 2009 "birther" poll of North Carolina residents found that 6% believe that Hawaii is not part of the United States, while 4% just aren't sure. That's one in ten North Carolinians who are not aware of one of the most fundmental facts of our nation.
- St. Petersburg Times: Can a complete novice become a golf pro with 10,000 hours of practice?
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in "Outliers" that it takes 10,000 hours of experience to become great at something. This 31-year-old is giving it a whirl, intending to spend 10,000 hours playing golf—a game in which he has no interest or abilities—over the next six years, with the intention of becoming a professional golfer with a permanent spot on the PGA Tour. He's 1,400 hours and one year into this grand experiment.
- Willamette Week: 9 Things The Rich Don’t Want You To Know About Taxes
The effective tax rate on the 400 wealthiest Americans is 16.6%. The top 1%? They pay 23%. Remember John Paulson, the hedge-fund manager who made $9,000,000,000 by betting against the housing market? He paid exactly $0 in taxes on that. That's because hedge-fund managers don't have to pay any income taxes—congress exempts them. That must be nice for them.
- The Washington Post: Shining some sunlight on $200 million in Virginia tax breaks
Delegates David Toscano and Lee Ware propose some more stringent criteria for providing new tax credits. The annual tax credits that Virginia provides to the coal industry alone come to $100M/year, or $15/year/citizen.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: So, How Do We Put Elizabeth Warren’s Calendar Online?
I like this description of the work that goes into putting Elizabeth Warren's personal calendar online. Warren is Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and an all-around bad ass, as far as I'm concerned.
- New York Times: G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether
General Electric is the largest company in the United States. It paid $0 in taxes last year. How? By hiding its money in offshore banks and getting Congress to give them special, enormous tax breaks. They have the right to do that, and Congress has the right to strip them of their federal contracts. But they won't, because they don't have the balls. The only person to do anything about this was Ronald Reagan, who overhauled the tax system after he learned about G.E.'s behavior. By the late nineties, G.E. got their loopholes back. This is straight-up corporate welfare, and it's costing all of us billions of dollars.
Bob McDonnell is refusing to sign an anti-tax pledge, and the Washington Times is upset. I’m impressed with McDonnell. We’re seeing right now, in California, what happens when a state refuses to raise taxes as a matter of principle. Sometimes it’s necessary, and to say “I’ll never raise taxes no matter what” is foolish. McDonnell struck me as just the sort of guy who would sign a pledge like this in order to appeal to the base, damn the consequences, a la Gilmore. Obviously I was wrong.
Note, by the way, that McDonnell has already signed the pledge, back when he was a delegate. I don’t know what the wording of it is, but it seems odd that he could back out on a pledge that he already made. I suspect that this change from him is a sign that the right in Virginia is weaker than ever. McDonnell is tacking to the left awfully quick, knowing that Virginians like centrists, and that’s as true for Republican candidates as Democrats. (Via Norm)