Monday, March 2, 2009

No Action Comics

The Third Interstate Highway System

And a few Words About Taxes
by Andrew Tobias
Be honest:
Is the reason you're not investing in stocks these days (a) the prospect of having to pay 15% capital gains tax?  Or (b) the fear of further losses?  (Well, or – c – that you don't have any money?)
Is the reason you don't start a new business that (a) if it made you a lot of money you'd have to pay a lot of taxes?  Or that (b) you can't get anyone to risk the funds you need to finance it?
Is the reason you don't hire new workers that (a) you're paying so much in taxes?  Or that (b) with business down so much, you don't need them?
Is the reason you're not spending money as freely as you used to that (a) your taxes are too high?  Or that (b) you're afraid of losing your job?  (Well, or – c – that you've lost half your net worth and suddenly realize you'd better get serious about saving for a decent retirement?)
Is the reason you're unemployed that (a) taxes are too high to make you want a job?  Or that (b) you've sent out 400 resumes and called every connection you have, but no one's hiring.
If the answer to all – or any – of these questions is (a), then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his fellow Republicans may have a point in trashing the President's strategy and pushing tax cuts to get us out of this mess. 
Otherwise, can we please stop with that? 

New charges on Ryanair

Kellogg's Stock Takes Big Hit After Phelps Bong Controversy

I'm no expert on the stock market, but this doesn't look good for Kellogg's:

Kellogg Co. Stock -- February 2009:
As the chart shows, the company's stock took an immediate dive following its decision to drop Michael Phelps over the infamous bong hit photo. What began as a coordinated boycott by drug reform organizations quickly escalated into a full-blown media frenzy as major news outlets picked up the story. Pot-friendly websites like began directing massive traffic to news coverage that was critical of Kellogg's anti-marijuana posturing, thereby increasing the campaign's visibility among likely supporters.

The cumulative impact of all this negative publicity is helpfully illustrated by The Vanno Reputation Index, which monitors the public image of leading corporations:
Out of the 5,600 company reputations Vanno monitors, Kellogg ranked ninth before it booted Phelps. Now it's ranked 83. Not even an industry-wide peanut scare inflicted as much damage on the food company's reputation. [Business Insider]

In the current economic climate, it would be silly to think we're solely responsible for Kellogg's falling stock. Still, the Vanno data clearly shows that we've dealt a substantial blow to the company's reputation at the worst possible time. Whether or not we actually had a considerable impact on Kellogg's bottom line is beside the point. What matters is that we sent an unprecedented message to corporate America that reefer madness is bad for business.

Scientists' stem cell breakthrough ends ethical dilemma

Experts in Britain and Canada find way to make stem cells without destroying embryos

by Ian Sample

Heart cells x-rayScientists have found a way to make an almost limitless supply of stem cells that could safely be used in patients while avoiding the ethical dilemma of destroying embryos.

In a breakthrough that could have huge implications, British and Canadian scientists have found a way of reprogramming skin cells taken from adults, effectively winding the clock back on the cells until they were in an embryonic form.

The work has been hailed as a major step forward by scientists and welcomed by pro-life organisations, who called on researchers to halt other experiments which use stem cells collected from embryos made at IVF clinics.

Sir Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly the Sheep and heads the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University where the work was done, said: "This is a significant step in the right direction. The team has made great progress and combining this work with that of other scientists working on stem cell differentiation, there is hope that the promise of regenerative medicine could soon be met."

Stem cells have the potential to be turned into any tissue in the body, an ability that has led researchers to believe they could be used to make "spare parts" to replace diseased and damaged organs and treat conditions as diverse as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injury.

Because the cells can be made from a patient's own skin, they carry the same DNA and so could be used without a risk of being rejected by the immune system.

Scientists showed they could make stem cells from adult cells more than a year ago, but the cells could never be used in patients because the procedure involved injecting viruses that could cause cancer. Overcoming the problem has been a major stumbling block in efforts to make stem cells fulfil their promise of transforming the future of medicine.

Now, scientists at the universities of Edinburgh and Toronto have found a way to achieve the same feat without using viruses, making so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell therapies a realistic prospect for the first time.

Americans can do anything

Republicans against tax cuts!

One of the interesting ironies about the economic stimulus bill that just passed is that by most any measure it is the largest tax cut in US history. It includes $282 billion in tax cuts over two years. In comparison, Bush's largest tax cuts (in 2004/2005) totaled $231 billion.

So why did the Republicans just vote overwhelmingly against the largest tax cut in history? Obama's tax cuts are aimed mostly at the middle class, families and people who work. While Bush's tax cuts primarily benefited the rich.

Red states consume more porn?

According to a new Harvard Business School study, eight of the top ten states in terms of online porn consumption were ones where McCain won in the presidential election. Professor Benjamin Edelman analyzed anonymised credit cards receipts from a large online porn company. Based on their limited data, the largest consumer is Utah. Other interesting possible correlations emerged too that Edelman outlines in his paper, "Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?" published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. From New Scientist:
Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code's religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds.

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

To get a better handle on other associations between social attitudes and pornography consumption, Edelman melded his data with a previous study on public attitudes toward religion.

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."

"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says.
"Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers" (New Scientist),

The message: The Rebuttal:

REVEALED: 'There was no Cabinet debate in run-up to war,' says Short as Government refuses to release minutes

By Simon Walters

"...the main reason for the 'scandalous' decision not to publish the minutes was not to protect confidential discussions about the war, but to cover up the fact there was no such discussion. At the last Cabinet meeting, no debate on the legality of the war was allowed and Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, said brusquely: 'That's it.'"

The Government is refusing to release minutes of Cabinet meetings before the Iraq War because they would reveal there was no discussion on the issue.

Details surrounding two crucial meetings on the eve of the conflict were laid bare for the first time yesterday when former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, who was present at both, gave a full account of what happened.

She told The Mail on Sunday the main reason for the 'scandalous' decision not to publish the minutes was not to protect confidential discussions about the war, but to cover up the fact there was no such discussion.

At the last Cabinet meeting, no debate on the legality of the war was allowed and Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, said brusquely: 'That's it.'

The official records would also put an end to claims by Gordon Brown's supporters that, in private, he had grave doubts about the war, said Ms Short. In fact, he led the Cabinet campaign to accuse France of sabotaging British and American attempts to win United Nations support for the attack on Saddam Hussein.

'It is extraordinary when you hear people like Jack Straw say that the Cabinet minutes cannot be published because you have to preserve Cabinet confidentiality and robust decision-making,' said Ms Short, who resigned as International Development Secretary after the war.

'The bitter irony is that what they are doing is concealing the fact there was no robust decision-making. The minutes will reveal there was no real Cabinet discussion about the Iraq War. That is the real scandal.'

Your Wealth Is Not Your Standard of Living

By Scott Burns

Your Wealth is Not Your Standard of LivingHere's a challenging thought: Things aren't as bad as they seem.

Since there is plenty of bad news out there, how can I say this?

We see things dark and hopeless because we are looking at the world through a wealth window, not an income window. Wealth changes faster than income. It also changes more than income. But when push comes to shove, the standard of living that most Americans enjoy is determined by flows of income and benefits, not wealth.

The wealth destruction figures, which are reported ad nauseam, are scary.

  • Home prices are down enough that one homeowner in six is "upside down"--- they owe more than their house is worth.
  • According to the Case-Shiller indexes, home prices have declined about 25 percent in the 20 largest urban areas since the July 2006 market peak.
  • The Federal Reserve consumer balance sheet figures showed that Americans lost $7 trillion between the third quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2008, a decline of 11 percent. When the figures for the first quarter of 2009 are released in June, we will probably learn that we've collectively lost over $10 trillion.
  • The recently released figures from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances estimate that since the survey was done, we've all lost enough wealth that our collective net worth is below what we had when the 2004 survey was done.

It's all very scary. But let's ask a rude question: Has your standard of living dropped by 20 percent? Has it fallen by 25 percent? Unless you've lost your job or lost your house, the answer is no. You may be worried. You may feel poorer. You may be poorer. But your standard of living hasn't dropped much. More important, it probably won't.

Newspapers on the couch

As banks tighten lending, borrowers turn to mafia

The Mafia and its loan sharks, nearly everyone agrees, smell blood in the troubled waters.

ROME — When the bills started piling up and the banks wouldn't lend, the white-haired art dealer in the elegant tweed jacket said he drove to the outskirts of Rome and knocked on the rusty steel door of a shipping container.

A beefy man named Mauro answered. He wore blue overalls with two big pockets, one stuffed with checks and the other with cash. The wad of bills he handed over came at 120 percent annual interest.

As banks stop lending amid the global financial crisis, the likes of Mauro are increasingly becoming the face of Italian finance. The Mafia and its loan sharks, nearly everyone agrees, smell blood in the troubled waters.

"It's a fantastic time for the Mafia. They have the cash," said Antonio Roccuzzo, the author of books on organized crime. "The Mafia has enormous liquidity. It may be the only Italian 'company' without any cash problem."

At a time when businesses most need loans as they struggle with falling sales, rising debt and impending bankruptcy, Italian banks have "absolutely closed the purse strings," said Gian Maria Fara, the president of Eurispes, a private research institute.

That is great news for loan sharks. Confesercenti, the national shopkeepers association, estimates 180,000 businesses recently have turned to them in desperation. Although some shady lenders are freelancers turning profits on others' hard luck, very often the neighborhood tough offering fat rolls of cash is connected to the Mafia, the group said.

"Office workers, middle-class people, owners of fruit stands, flower stalls are all becoming their victims. ... We have never seen this happen," said Lino Busa, a top Confesercenti official.

Iraqi museum reopens six years after looting

The National Museum holds global treasures. Photo / APBAGHDAD - Iraq's restored National Museum reopened yesterday with a red-carpet gala in the heart of Baghdad nearly six years after looters carried away priceless antiquities as American troops largely stood by in the chaos of the city's fall.

The ransacking of the museum became a symbol for critics of Washington's post-invasion strategy and its inability to maintain order as Saddam Hussein's security network disintegrated.

But Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki chose to look ahead - calling the reopening another milestone in Baghdad's slow return to stability .

"It was a dark age that Iraq passed through," Maliki said at a dedication ceremony. "This spot of civilisation has had its share of destruction."

The museum - which holds artefacts from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrian and Islamic periods - opened to the public on Monday, but only for organised tours at first, officials said.

"We have ended the black wind [of violence] and have started the reconstruction process," Maliki told hundreds of officials and guardians of Iraq's rich cultural heritage as Iraqi soldiers with red berets stood guard.Once the home of one of the world's leading collections of artefacts, the museum fell victim to bands of thieves who rampaged through the capital after the Americans captured Baghdad in April 2003. It was among many institutions looted across Iraq, including universities and cultural offices. But the richness of the museum's collection - and its importance as the caretaker of Iraq's historical identity - brought outcry around the world.

United States troops, the sole power in the city at the time, were intensely criticised for not protecting the treasures at the museum and other cultural institutions like the national library and the Saddam Art Centre, a museum of modern Iraqi art.

When asked at the time why US troops did not actively seek to stop the lawlessness, then-Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously said: "Stuff happens ... and it's untidy and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

New employee

bush leaves office cartoon funny