Monday, April 16, 2012

Tax Man

APRIL 17 – Tax day is this week, thank God for Turbo Tax.

A few stats for you: 24.9% of your taxes go for National Defense, 23.7% to Health Care, 19.1% to Job & Family Security, 8.1% for Interest on Debt, 7.9% Government Administration, 4.5% on Veterans Benefits, 3.6% Education and Job Training, 2.0% for Immigration and Law Enforcement, the remaining 6.2% for Science, Space Technology, Agriculture, Natural Disasters, and who knows what.

Amid an election-year feud over tax policy, President Barack Obama on Friday released his 2011 tax filings, showing that he paid $162,074 in total taxes on adjusted gross income of $789,674, an effective rate of 20.5 percent. The first couple paid $31,941 in Illinois income tax. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, whose joint return also reported giving $172,130 to 39 different charities an additional 21.8 percent of their adjusted gross income. Their top recipient, receiving $117,130, was Fisher House, which provides free or inexpensive housing to veterans and military families receiving care at military medical facilities.  Mitt Romney has yet to file his 2011 Tax Returns.

2012 ELECTION – President Obama this week in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.: "This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we've seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election [of 1964] -- maybe before that."

--Lyndon Johnson: 61% (44 states plus D.C.) ... Barry Goldwater: 39% (6 states)

THE MAP- "Campaign 2012-Road to 270: Obama defends typically GOP states in race to 270: President Obama begins his re-election campaign defending traditionally Republican territory that he carried when he won the White House four years ago. Republican Mitt Romney is looking to reclaim any combination of these GOP strongholds now in flux. ... The political spotlight will shine brightly again on Florida, and the Upper Midwest, especially Ohio. But changes in the nation's demographics will mean heavy attention paid to the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest. 'For a long time the map was static. I don't think that holds true anymore,' said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to former Democratic presidential nominees Al Gore and John Kerry. ...”

"Obama expanded the Democratic footprint on an electoral map that had changed little between George W. Bush's narrow 2000 election and 2004 re-election. Against McCain, Obama captured nine states that Bush had won four years earlier. Besides Florida and Ohio, Obama took North Carolina and Virginia ... There were victories as well in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada. In Florida, unemployment tops 9 percent, tourism is slow to recover, gas prices are high and trouble persists in the housing market; all that works against Obama. But his team is aggressively organizing in the state, and his visit Friday was his 16th since taking office, more than almost any other swing state."


--UP FOR GRABS (104 electoral votes): Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (3), New Mexico (5), Nevada (6), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Virginia (13)

--LEAN D (56 EVs): Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10)

--SOLID D (186 EVs): California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.

--LEAN R (32 EVs): Arizona (11), Indiana (11), Missouri (10)

--SOLID R (156 EVs): Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (65), Ellen Barkin (58), Bill Belichick (60), Gene Hasse …. Fourscore and never better, Ashley Judd (44), Jack Nicholson (75), Ann Romney (63), Maria Sharapova (25), James Woods (65).

RINK RATS TMZ.COM – We noticed this past week, on Foothill Boulevard no less, a distinguished member of the community getting his hair quaffed at SuperCuts. Yes SuperCuts. No hair color was used but they did use scissors instead of electric shears.

STUDENT LOAN DEBT a looming disaster? Mounting balances a threat to economy" -- "Move over, mortgages. Get out of the way, Greece. Another economic doomsday scenario is emerging. Student loan debt has reached about $870 billion, exceeding credit cards and auto loans, and balances are expected to continue climbing, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said last month. In February, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys referred to a 'student loan "debt bomb"' and wondered if it was shaping up to become 'America's next mortgage-style economic crisis.' ...

"Sen. Dick Durbin ... is pushing legislation, the Fairness for Struggling Students Act, which would allow students who borrowed from private lenders for their education to wipe out that debt in bankruptcy proceedings, just as credit card borrowers and many other unsecured debtors may do. In 2005, Congress changed bankruptcy laws and made private student loan debts non-dischargeable in bankruptcy ... Others argue against allowing student borrowers to discharge their private loan obligations in bankruptcy court. For one thing, if lenders knew borrowers could escape repayment through bankruptcy, they might raise interest rates to account for that risk and lend to fewer people."

U.S. DROUGHT - "Drought condition spreads over USA: 61% of lower 48 states are 'abnormally dry,'": "The USA hasn't been this dry in five years. ... A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the 48 contiguous states in 'abnormally dry' or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. That's the highest percentage of dry or drought conditions since September 2007 ... The drought is expanding into some areas where dryness is rare, such as New England. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, stream levels are at record or near-record lows in much of New England. ... Wildfires and brush fires have been common along the East Coast from New England to Florida in recent weeks."

WALL STREET WEEK - Wall Street’s bulls are no doubt happy to turn the page on last week, the worst of 2012 for the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq.
GOOGLE TO SPLIT STOCK - "Google has announced an unusual stock split that will effectively hand founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin lifetime control of the search engine they invented ... The decision to cement control for what Mr. Page called 'the very long term' marks what corporate governance experts described as a first for a big public company in the US. It will also result in a new class of Google shares trading on Wall Street. Under its first stock split in eight years as a public company, Google said it would issue a new share for each of its shares already outstanding.

"Such moves are normally welcomed on Wall Street, where a lower price per share is sometimes seen as an inducement for smaller investors to buy ... In a departure from normal practice, Google's new shares will carry no voting rights, leaving control of the company 'frozen' in the hands of holders of its existing shares. That is designed to leave Mr. Page, 39, and Mr. Brin, 38, with a firm grip on the nearly 58 per cent of the voting rights they control between them under a special class of shares."

AUGUSTA NATIONAL, FINAL THOUGHT - I consider the Augusta debate bizarre. It's as if the green jackets have reached a level of silliness that can only be compared to that of obstinate children. Would it kill them to admit a woman member? Certainly not, would it bust their bank to have to add a couple of ladies' rooms in the clubhouse? Heck no. But just like when a 3-year-old who won’t finish his dinner simply because you told him to, it's become a game of wills. The Augusta National members don't want what the place has always been about to change, and they certainly don't want to be told to change. They are wrong and they know they're wrong, but like most men, they can't bear doing the right thing when it's somebody else's idea. It's no different than stopping and asking for directions."

The outrageous, embarrassing part of this debate isn't that Augusta National continues to practice bigoted membership policies. It's that the powers that be in professional golf still associate themselves with a club that does so. What message does it send to the world about this sport when we hold our biggest, most prestigious tournament at a club that excludes people because of their gender? How do we even broach the subject of "growing the game" when this is the image we put forth? (Golf is losing participants faster than we can count -- most alarmingly among juniors, a group whose numbers are down 35 percent over the last five years, according to the National Golf Foundation). 

DRIVING THE WEEK - Senate expected to take up the Buffett Rule today in an effort to put pressure on the GOP to go on record in opposition to a measure that may be gimmicky but is nonetheless quite popular among voters ... Huge pile of first quarter earnings this week including Citigroup today; Goldman Sachs on Tuesday; Bank of America, Blackstone and Morgan Stanley on Thursday. Shares in Wells Fargo and JPMorgan tanked on Friday amid concern that the banking industry could falter again if Europe worsens and the U.S. recovery slips ... Carlyle plans to file for its IPO today with a conservative range of $23-$25 per share, according to multiple accounts (more below) ... House OGR has a hearing on the GSA spending scandal today at 1:30 p.m. ... Senate Banking has an Ex-Im Bank hearing Tuesday ... World Bank and IMF have spring meetings in D.C. Friday through Sunday

Next week, restaurant review, words of the month, Dear Rink Rats, and what’s up with yoga.

Until Next Monday, Adios.

Claremont, CA
April 16, 2012

#II-51, 104

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