Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just What Would I Do with $550 Million?

What would I do with $550 million? I will never have that problem, even if I win the "$550 million" Powerball drawing at 11:00 pm EST this evening. But it's fun to think about I would do with all that money.

(1) Choose the cash option not the annuity option. The cash option is estimated at $360.2 million. To get the full $550 million I would have to take it in annual installment payments over 30 years. The first installment would only be around $9,806,555 (before taxes) and grows each year to a final payment in 30 years of around $30,583,225. In the meantime, the state sits on my money, forget that.

(2) Pay the income taxes. I don't want to end up in jail like Survivor winner Richard Hatch who failed to report his $1 million in winnings. Assuming I have to pay a combined federal/state rate of 38.45%, that would chop off $138,478,890 and leave me with $221,721,110. That sucks but I knew that going in.

By the way, if I don't get the check until next year, I would potentially get hit with an extra $29,378,632 in federal taxes at the higher 46.6% rate that may apply. The fiscal cliff just stopped being funny.

And, if I took the annuity option, the total taxes over 30 years adds up to $256,306,600, an additional $88,449,078, so it's not like I'd really be getting the full $550 million that way either.

(3) Set aside $20 million or so for charity, by creating a private foundation or donor-advised fund. That will save me $7 million in taxes up front and let me dole out $1 million a year to worthy causes.

(4) Get a thousand $100 bills I can pass out for a couple of days like Rockefeller used to hand out dimes, and a couple hundred $1,000 bills for close friends and family. OK, they took the $1,000 bill out of circulation so maybe it will have to be gold coins for the friends and family.

(5) Move to Oregon, which has no sales tax, the government already took its cut. Portlandia, here I come. If I am going to spend this money, I want to do it from a nice condo in the Pearl District. Nothing too fancy, $1 million should do it.

(6) Put $3 million into farmland, perhaps a few hundred acres in Yamhill County, something I can tell all my Cambridge friends is a winery and all my Iowa friends is a ranch. Then, because grapes and cattle are too much work, I'll find some lazy farmer to seed it down and cut it for hay a few times a year.

(7) Buy a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, $32,320 MRP, 31-34 mpg and no bailout.

(8) Buy a new laptop, $2,000 should cover a 13 inch MacBook Air with retina display and a few accessories.

(9) Buy a case of Dark Chocolate M&Ms. I can't find them anywhere but on the internet. It looks like I could get a gross of 12.6 ounce packages from for $469.20.

(10) That would leave me with $175 million, which if I invested in the stock market would give off about $3.5 million in dividends each year. The tax man's cut could be as much as $1.6 million, leaving me with $1.9 million a year. I could live on that.

I bought 2 QuickPicks for $4 earlier this evening. I don't consider it gambling because I know I'm almost certainly going to lose. It's a $4 entertainment, more than 2 trips to RedBox, less than going to a movie.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Add the Anti-Tax Pledge to the Mayan Prophecy

Fiscal cliff, taxmageddon, you'd think Washington, DC was about to slip into the abyss of the Mayan prophecy. But rather than the world ending on December 21, 2012, the U.S. Congress will probably just take its usual Christmas vacation.

Will they have a deal? Won't they have a deal? A lot is being made to depend on whether enough Republicans break the Grover Norquist Americans for Tax Reform Pledge not to raise taxes. Here's why you should add that to the list of things you don't really need to follow:

The Pledge is toothless. How toothless? Well just compare the Pledge asks from U.S. Senators and Congressman to the Pledge he asks from state legislators:
State: "I pledge that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

Federal: I pledge that I will ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."
Anyone can plainly see the big gaping difference between "any and all efforts to increase taxes" in the state pledge and that mishmash of words in the federal pledge. The U.S. Congress can pass any tax in any amount it wants without breaking with Grover Norquist, as long as it's not a "marginal" income tax rate increase or a "net" reduction in deductions and credits.

Any real promise to hold spending in line so taxes won't have to be raised has already been broken. We've already run up $16 trillion in debt under the not-so-watchful eye of the Pledge. Since deficit spending = future taxation we've already decided to raise taxes. When and how is just a detail.

Consider this. The Bush tax cuts were extended from their original expiration date of 12/31/2010 to expire on 12/31/2012. Would letting them expire and thereby allowing tax rates to rise on 1/1/2013 break the Pledge? Grover Norquist didn't seem to think so in July 2011:
"Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase."
If Republicans can just let the tax cuts expire without breaking the Pledge, then they can also agree to set the income tax rates on 1/1/2013 at any level up to the higher rates that would otherwise apply. They don't have to wait until 1/1/2013 to make such a deal and exempting even one person would make it a "tax cut."

The so-called Buffett Rule doesn't break the Pledge. Warren Buffett's latest version is for Congress to enact a minimum tax on high incomes at 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million and 35 percent on income above that. That's less than the current top marginal income tax rate of 35% so no Pledge to break here folks.

The Pledge doesn't even have enough adherents to stop a tax increase. The Democrats have a majority in the U.S. Senate along with 6 Republicans who haven't signed the pledge and a few others who say they don't feel bound by it any longer. Grover Norquist can't even mount a filibuster. In the U.S. House, only 17 Republican votes are needed to go with the Democrats and at least 16 Republicans declined to sign the Pledge with several others publicly ready to sign off. As long as Republican Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are on board the deal, it can't be stopped in the U.S. House.

So don't worry, Pledge or no Pledge, President Obama and the U.S. Congress will save us from going off the fiscal cliff and into taxmageddon, they just haven't decided whether to "save" us before we reach the precipice or "catch" us on the way down. This is just Daylight Savings Time. The extra hour we get back is the one they previously took away.

So what's really a stake here? The question is what kind of reform Republicans can get in return for giving up their Pledge. They want entitlement reform but I would have them go for constitutional reform.

You do have to admire Grover Norquist for his tenacity:
"Deadlock or gridlock is better than moving in the wrong direction. Stasis for the last two years has been a big improvement over heading in the wrong direction."
However, the strategy of allowing federal budget deficits to run up crippling debts by not raising taxes in the hopes that somewhere years down the road some future Congress and President will agree to spending cuts simply doesn't work. What would work is giving the people a direct say in major tax and spending decisions via a ballot question process.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Her Best Understanding of the Intelligence

President Obama gave a spirited defense of his U.N. Ambassador yesterday:
"But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
I'm not sure if I were Susan Rice I would like being thrown under the "her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her" and the "simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received" bus.

I will say this about Susan Rice and that Sunday she made the rounds with the spontaneous demonstration to an anti-muslim YouTube video story. The four dead Americans, including fellow Ambassador Christopher Stephens, were the least of her, and our, problems.

The U.S. faced demonstrations against our embassies in Egypt and some 23 countries all told, with the Palestinians waiting in the wings to press their statehood demands at the U.N. session that was about to begin. The demonstrations were pretextually about the YouTube video, her statements essentially accused the demonstrators in those other countries of complicity in the Benghazi deaths, and her work helped defuse the crisis.

Susan Rice's problem is she can't be praised for that directly, as doing so would undermine her exemplary work. Was there coordination between the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the 9/11 demonstrations at the U.S. embassy in Cairo? Think about it. A planned attack is made against a U.S. diplomatic facility and spontaneous demonstrations erupt against other U.S. diplomatic facilities.

Yes, the YouTube video was a pretext, as was the "spontaneity" of the demonstrations, but it was their pretext not our pretext. I see what Ambassador Rice did as blunting the enemy attack. Essentially, she was parroting back the enemy's dishonest cover story, and in the process made their purported cause look ridiculous. Her fault is that she did that a little too well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Inviolable Jill Kelley

Jill Kelley's business card reads:
Social Liaison, Unpaid, Tampa
So far Jill has ruined the careers of two four-star generals, one the CIA Director and the other the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, a lieutenant colonel, an FBI agent, and very likely a South Korean diplomat.

The one I feel sorry for is the hapless FBI agent. As a favor to the foxy brunette with the twin sister he initiated an FBI cyberstalker investigation. In the course of said investigation his colleagues found that he had previously sent said foxy brunette pictures of himself shirtless.

A 911 call Jill made Sunday to get rid of the reporters camped out at her house exposed the South Korean connection:
"I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property. I don’t know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well, because that’s against the law to cross my property because, you know, it's inviolable."
Jill has been driving her Mercedes around Tampa with license places that say "Honorary Consul" and no doubt exercising her inviolability to park in handicap spaces and in front of fire hydrants. That was courtesy of some yet-to-be-named South Korean official.

The South Korean government had this to say:
"She will be relieved from the symbolic post if she is found to be problematic."
And you know that word "if" is just being diplomatic.

Personally, I blame Hollywood. Jill is just playing the Julia Roberts character in Charlie Wilson's War, the slutty Houston socialite with an honorary ambassadorship intent on world domination. Jill just moved the location from Houston to Tampa.

Update: The shirtless FBI agent has been identified as a Frederick W. Humphries II. The New York Times has posted this curiosity:
"On Wednesday afternoon, a man standing in the driveway of Mr. Humphries's home who appeared to be him said, in response to questions from a reporter for The New York Times, that his first name was not Fred. The man then walked into the house, closed the front door and did not respond to the door bell's being rung several times."
Even I could tell you that men named Frederick W. Humphries II do not answer to Fred. Humphries does have something the usual Frederick W. Humphries II would not have, a union rep. Lawrence Berger, the general counsel for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has taken up Humphries defense.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

David Frum Tells Conservatives to Not Despair

David Frum addressed this CNN article to conservatives, but it should also be addressed to libertarians.
"The United States did not vote for socialism."
Don't despair he says, and how right he is:
Compare the United States of 2012 to the United States of 1962. Leave aside the obvious points about segregation and discrimination, and look only at the economy.

In 1962, the government regulated the price and route of every airplane, every freight train, every truck and every merchant ship in the United States. The government regulated the price of natural gas. It regulated the interest on every checking account and the commission on every purchase or sale of stock. Owning a gold bar was a serious crime that could be prosecuted under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The top rate of income tax was 91%.

It was illegal to own a telephone. Phones had to be rented from the giant government-regulated monopoly that controlled all telecommunications in the United States. All young men were subject to the military draft and could escape only if they entered a government-approved graduate course of study. The great concern of students of American society -- of liberals such as David Riesman, of conservatives such as Russell Kirk, and of radicals such as Dwight Macdonald -- was the country's stultifying, crushing conformity.
It is unclear with whom libertarians should align at this moment in our nation's political history, and many split the difference by aligning with Obama and Boehner. Reid, by the way, is just the impeachment nonsense stopper.

We have crossed a line, and it isn't about makers and takers. Too many women voted Democratic on the single issue of reproductive freedom for the last two Republican nominees to reach Presidential viability.

As far as the Hispanic immigration menace, I'm not worried. A full 40% of my nieces and nephews are Hispanic. Akin and Mourdock can't be blamed for losing the Hispanic vote.

Election returns are the one objective fact in politics. But still, even after 2012, I suspect Republican candidates will continue to self-abort and self-deport.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Paula Broadwell Claims "I'm Not in Love with David Petraeus"

Was Paula Broadwell all in? Cue the video to 10:08. Paula Broadwell tells interviewer Arthur Kade back in February 2012:
"It's not a hagiography. I'm not in love with David Petraeus"

I considered buying her book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. It's authored by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb.
Q: Since when does a biograher need a ghostwriter?
A: When she needs a beard.
I didn't buy the book. I guess I knew.

A lot of other people knew too. And that may explain the recent books on Dwight Eisenhower and their fascination with Kay Summersby.
The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower by Stephen E. Ambrose (reissued in paperback January 2012)

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith (February 2012)

Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas (September 2012)

Eisenhower Was My Boss by Kay Summersby (reissued in paperback September 2012)

Eisenhower: The White House Years by Jim Newton (October 2012)
I might buy one of those. Or I might go straight to the source:
Crusade in Europe by Dwight David Eisenhower

Counterinsurgency Field Manual by Lt. General David Petraeus and Lt. General James F Amos
Today is Veteran's day. I, for one, will take this moment to thank David Petraeus for his service to our country. His immediate tender of his resignation shows he would not subject his CIA tenure to blackmail or compromise.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Florida, the West Hasn't Gotten Its Vote In Either

It's two days after the election and we aren't just waiting for Florida. Take a look at the estimated percentage of the vote that is in the Western states.
68% in Alaska
75% in Oregon
55% in Washington
69% in California
71% in Arizona
That is a lot of missing votes, as many as 7 million in my estimation. That's not going to change the outcome of the election. It will increase the vote totals, both for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Right now, the popular vote is at 61 million to 58 million, but it could really be 65 million to 61 million.

What difference does it make? John McCain polled roughly 60 million votes in 2008, so that is the difference between McCain's total decreasing or increasing for the Republicans.

It could also be the difference between a 2% or 3% margin of victory for President Obama, a betting proposition at Intrade. Better read the fine print, bets settle at midday Friday but who knows when the votes will come in.

Where are the rest of the ballots? In the mail. The effect of vote-by-mail is that the Post Office gets to hold the ballots from Election Day until it feels like getting around to delivering them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

President Obama Is Alive, Speaker Pelosi is Still Dead

Gridlock can be a wonderful thing. Most Americans love their country just fine the way it is. There are things we would reform, but only around the edges. President Barack Obama is reelected, but U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is also returned.

That's two losses in a row for former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She should exit stage left. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should also go, but through the grace of God and the gift of bad Republican candidates forfeiting easy wins, Harry retains his majority. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, exit stage right, please.

Does this election solve any of our self-created problems? No, but the message from America is to get on with it. We're not going back to the squandered hopes and dreams of 2008, or 2010, we're going forward!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

More than One Way to Steal an Election

Election Day greetings from Tip O'Neil's hometown, our fair city, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I voted today at the Cambridge National Guard Armory.

There was no line. But I did have to wait at the check-in table for the poll worker to finish his conversation with a Cambridge cop about Hurricane Sandy.

The guy at the ballot box was also engrossed in conversation. "Oh, did you just put one in?" he asked. "Just one?" I answered.

The other rooms in the building were locked up tight and these signs were everywhere:

"This is a military installation, not a public or private building. You are guests allowed to use this facility. Don't move or take anything."

I did hold still while I took this picture.

Confident Predictions of an Obama Victory

At 1:45 AM EST, the wags give Obama between an 11 to 1 or 2 to 1 advantage to win when the votes are counted later today. I'd take the 11 to 1 shot for Romney, that's a good bet, even if he loses.

I've always thought that if Romney had a chance to win this election, he would. It should be remembered that not all roads to victory lead through Ohio. On the other hand, I've never seen the Democrats I know more motivated.

Candidate Obama Obama Romney Obama Romney Obama Romney
Result Odds Electors Electors U.S. U.S. Ohio Ohio
RCP   303 235 48.8% 48.1% 50.0% 47.1%
NYT 538 92.0% 315.2 223 50.9% 48.2% 51.4% 47.6%
Intrade 67.9% 290 249 50.5% 49.5% ^ v
Betfair 78.4%            
HuffPo   271 191 48.1% 46.7% 49.2% 45.8%
Politico   303 235 48.0% 48.0% 50.0% 47.1%
Gallup       49.0% 50.0%    
Rasmussen       48.0% 49.0% 49.0% 49.0%
CNN       49.0% 49.0%    
ABC/WaPo       50.0% 47.0%    
NBC/WSJ       48.0% 47.0% 51.0% 45.0%
Pew       50.0% 47.0%    
Actual   332 206 50.6% 47.9% 50.1% 48.2%

You might ask, why not forget the polls and just vote? Well, there is a certain category of fair-weather voter who likes to vote for the winner. There is another category of voter who likes to vote for the underdog, but by definition that is a smaller category. That means in a very close election "I'm going to win" is how you get those last swing voters.

In the perfect campaign, the candidate would collect both the underdog vote and the fair-weather vote, by targeted messaging of "I'm going to lose" and "I'm going to win." Could it be that the Obama campaign is just that smart?

Update: Now that we have the "official" results from Florida, it would appear that the predictions of an Obama victory weren't confident enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Another 25 Cynical Reasons to Vote for Barack Obama

My first 25 cynical reasons to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 worked out well. I had my taxes cut by 30% (#2). Cindy and John got their leisurely retirement (#6) as there has been nothing going on in the U.S. Senate. The iocane powder trick (#18) is still awaiting deployment against Iran. Here are 25 even more cynical reasons to vote for Barack Obama in 2012:

(1) For limited government and putting America first, a do-nothing socialist is better than a can-do empire builder.

(2) Katy Perry looks better than Kid Rock in a skintight bodysuit. Forward!

(3) Depriving Bill Clinton the honor of being the only Democrat reelected President since World War II is the best revenge. Vote for revenge.

(4) The magic underpants refrain Chris Matthews has planned to prattle on and on about for the duration of the Romney Presidency will fit just as well on Harry Reid.

(5) Malia Obama will turn 18 on July 4, 2016. Keeping Malia in the White House could be more fun than the Bush twins.

(6) Have you seen the resumes or checked the references of the 12 million people Mitt Romney wants you to hire?

(7) With a father from Mexico and a wife whose family came to the U.S. through Canada, Mitt Romney’s secret plan to forge a North American Union will be thwarted.

(8) Mitt’s charge of currency manipulation by China is our 25% off sale. What’s the list price for one of those new Jeeps made in China?

(9) Vladimir Putin will be surprised to find out what Barack Obama really meant by having more flexibility after the election, flexing his driver even more on the golf course.

(10) Why cut Medicare just for those under age 55? Hey, I’m under age 55. Obamacare cutting $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade is a good start toward having something left.

(11) Mitt’s tax plan proposes an expansion of the 47% by exempting interest, dividends, and capital gains for non-job-creating couch potatoes sitting on up to $10 million in stock and bond inheritances.

(12) We know U.S. House Speaker John Boehner won’t give Barack Obama a dime in tax increases, but under the ruse of tax reform he might raise taxes for Mitt Romney.

(13) Without President Obama, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts Scott Brown will have no one to bipartisanship with.

(14) A reelected President Barack Obama will send Vice President Joe Biden to Benghazi on the next apology tour. I don’t know what that means, I just read it on the internet.

(15) Come to find out, Mitt Romney wrote the blueprint for the auto bailout as well as for Obamacare.

(16) Mitt Romney failed to answer correctly Clint Eastwood’s question, if we are going to set a target date for withdrawal, why not bring them home tomorrow morning? If you can't bring yourself to vote for Obama, write in Eastwood.

(17) Lutherans don’t let other Lutherans vote Republican.

(18) John McCain sent me $1 during the 2008 campaign, so surely the Koch brothers could have sent me $50. I’m willing to let them buy the election, just not so cheap.

(19) If Barack Obama loses, the mainstream media will accuse you of racism, but if Obama wins, you can remain racist in peace.

(20) Obama will win anyway, and you want to able to pass the life detector test on who you voted for at the gulag reeducation camp.

(21) The Tea Party free zone that Mitt Romney created will dissipate after Obama is reelected. I miss the entertainment provided by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

(22) Rachel Maddow will be able to pursue her equal pay claim against MSNBC, as will Erin Burnett against CNN.

(23) Mitt Romney is such a flip-flopper he can’t be trusted to keep his promise to kill Big Bird. Turns out Big Bird was listed in his binders full of women.

(24) Gallup says a full 22% of LGBT voters support Romney, and those are the ones who want to get married.

(25) Sure, Barack may run the debt up to $20 trillion, but on his last day in office he can produce his Kenyan birth certificate and all those IOUs are rendered invalid since he was never legally President.

Canvassing for Donuts

I caught up today with the vaunted Obama ground game, at the local Dunkin's Donuts.

All Quiet at the Romney Headquarters in Boston

The news dispatches from the various battleground states keep coming in, but all appeared quiet Sunday at the Mitt Romney national campaign headquarters on Commercial Street along the waterfront in Boston's North End.

I did see a few people go in and out as well as people working in some of the offices, and that bus may be bound for New Hampshire, but there was no visible sign of the Romney campaign.

The back of the office buildings is on the Boston Harbor waterfront, with a dilapidated pier just waiting for a James Bond finish. That steeple in the background is the Old North Church.

I did see a flag in one window, and on closer examination it proved to be the lone star flag of the State of Texas.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Katy Perry Puts an Exclamation on Forward!

Sometime in the last few days the Obama campaign changed it's slogan from the lame "Forward." to the more compelling "Forward!". But it was Katy Perry who really added the exclamation point at a rally in Wisconsin (where, coincidentally, the state motto is also Forward):

The stage trick was for Katy to strip off this more conservative outfit to reveal the very forward body suit:

Katy did the same stage trick a couple of days earlier in Las Vegas starting from this dress:

The Vegas body suit was a little more flattering, perhaps because it has Mitt Romey's name scrawled across the bottom:

Joe Biden almost got lost in the folds, the lucky old dog, but Paul Ryan got left on the cutting room floor, the victim of a short skirt. I'd like to examine that ballot, and not for hanging chads.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Did Nate Silver Just Blink? Or Wink?

The headline at dated November 3, 2012, 9:33 am:

For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased