This page includes posts from
December 19, 2004 - January 1, 2005 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
January 1, 2005
We had most of my family over this afternoon for our holiday get-together--my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, niece, youngest brother, sister-in-law, and older brother.
Miz Janis' crabmeat pie was a big hit, as were Mom's turkey and gravy, sister's chutney, sister-in-law's cranberry cornbread, my wife's chocolate chip cookies, my pralines, and other offerings.
As the time slid toward the early evening, I decided to show my brothers some of the Warner Brothers cartoons I received for Christmas. I knew they'd appreciate the subtle humor of the classics--Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, and the rest.
Shortly after Michigan J. Frog made his appearance, someone entered the room, took a quick look around, and said simply, "This is definitely a Looney Tunes family."
Guilty as charged, we all agreed.
And best wishes for a Happy New Year to your family, however best described.
December 31, 2004
There’s such a thing as being too greedy.
I hope that’s the warning eventually imparted to New York State government after a Court of Appeals hearing about taxing telecommuters. The arguments are scheduled for next week.
An article in the New York Law Journal discusses the case of a Tennessee computer programmer who stays home most of the time, working for a labor union in Queens. Being able to continue to live in Nashville was one of Thomas L. Huckaby’s primary conditions for accepting the job, and the union agreed.
On the other hand, state officials argue that where the employer is located dictates the employees’ full income tax liability, no matter where they live, no matter what the reason.
According to reporter John Caher, New York claims that this theory of reaching out to touch folks for New York income taxes, no matter where they live, raises about $100 million for the Empire State.
It also raises significant ire for telecommuters, some of whom are going Federal with their complaints. Caher also noted that U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is pushing a bill in Congress to force New York to do what most other states already do—calculate the tax on non-residents based only on the money they earn while actually at work in the state.
New York's legal argument, as described in the article, strikes me as remarkably short-sighted, given the steady increase in telecommuting and the increased bargaining power of many technically-savvy employees to dictate where they live:
With all due respect, that’s a load.
New York ignores the fact that the states where the employees actually live provide the lion’s share of these same goods and services. It also ignores the simple, appealing logic of tying the tax burden to the time frames in which the employees create that service burden. The logic also explains why most other states don’t have this same grabby attitude--that, and fundamental fairness, of course.
More importantly, this method of taxation seems designed to spur erosion, not end it. Thanks to this tax policy, New York employers, already forced to compete with all other states for telecommuting employees, are at a competitive disadvantage with the states that aren’t so greedy.
For example, have the Empire State folks looked at the new businesses sprouting up in northern New Jersey, including garden spots such as Newark?
Have they ever stepped off the train station in Wilmington, Delaware, and peeked at all the financial institutions in the first few blocks from the Amtrak stop? Did they ever consider that their approach to income taxation might explain some of what they see?
Perhaps their own state’s high court will help convince them of the error of their ways, by agreeing with the arguments made on behalf of the gentleman from Tennessee. If the court won’t do it for them, perhaps Senator Dodd and 97 other Senators not from New York will help with some added convincing. And if that doesn’t work, then economic development officers from other states will surely highlight this little feature of tax law while making their pitches to New York businesses to move to their states.
At that point, perhaps the New York state officials will recognize that self-inflicted wounds are usually the most painful.
Hat tip: Howard Bashman
December 29, 2004
I read U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinions on a near-daily basis. This practice does three things at once:
Based on my experience of the last three years, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner is among the better writers now serving on Federal appellate panels. The opinions he writes are usually pointed, frequently practical, and blessedly short.
The judge is now also blogging a bit, and I particularly liked this passage from a December 27 post:
As if to prove he meant it, Posner issued a typical (for him) opinion on the very next day after this post appeared, in which he used very plain English to describe the problem and its potential resolution.
Sutter Insurance Company sued Applied Systems, Inc., a software company, in a six-figure dispute over a software contract. The software supplier countersued. The U.S. District Court ruled against both parties, however, and the insurance company appealed to the Seventh Circuit.
Speaking for the unanimous panel, Posner described one aspect of software agreements in terms most folks would understand and appreciate:
Posner then described some of the difficulties the Circuit panel was having in understanding exactly why the District Court ruled as it did. In passing, he added this pungent comment:
After discussing this issue a bit further, Posner then issued the panel’s final determination, along with a practical suggestion to forestall further court costs:
Hard to miss the hint there, eh?
December 28, 2004
When I read about Jared Diamond’s suggestion that Norwegians suffered from taboos about eating fish, I just laughed.
Not everyone loves seafood, of course, but this claim is patently ridiculous.
For example, here’s a quote from page 21 of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (Walker and Company, 1997), which a former client of mine gave me for a Christmas gift several years ago:
By the way, this method of preservation could also explain why no fish bones were found at the sites Diamond discusses in his book. The bones were, shall we say, processed too finely by digestive processes to make a definitive appearance during archeological digs conducted hundreds of years later.
Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis
December 27, 2004
A story in today’s NYT about a possible Federal income tax reform proposal to eliminate or reduce itemized deductions for state and local taxes had a few intriguing elements to it.
It being the Times, the piece understandably maintained an overwhelming focus on what it all might mean for New Yorkers.
The clear signal was that no matter what else the Administration might propose, the New York political leadership will put up a big fight if anyone tries to touch the current arrangement permitting such deductions.
For very high tax jurisdictions like New York State and City, this reaction is perfectly understandable, if a bit Chicken Little-like at this early stage. After all, the Administration hasn’t made public any tax reform package, with or without this part.
Even if enacted, however, this particular reform would not affect most New Yorkers:
Here’s how the reporter broke down that percentage:
Nonetheless, missing from the story is the fact that under current federal tax law, many if not most of these high-income folks can’t now fully deduct their state and local taxes, along with a few other disfavored items (beginning at $142,700 Adjusted Gross Income for joint filers). This part of the IRS Code is scheduled for phase-out beginning in 2006; still, in a piece discussing the tax implications of state and local tax deductions, one would think that point would be mentioned.
Another major issue for high-end taxpayers is given a full treatment in the piece, however, including an elegant explanation from our friend Max Sawicky, of blogging fame and with a regular gig at the Economic Policy Institute.
Sawicky suggested that the Administration has its reasons for considering this particular reform, if only for the nice bit of parallelism it shares with the revenue impacts of the Alternative Minimum Tax, a far less popular part of the IRS Code:
So that’s it. Once again, the real story comes back to who actually pays income taxes, after taking into account all of the complexities put into the Code by our friends in Congress.
I can well understand why Senators Schumer and Clinton would like to head off this particular idea before it is even broached, but their fear-mongering strikes me as a tad premature. Besides, in the current political climate, knowing that these two don’t like the idea could convince some members of the Administration to push even harder for its adoption.
In addition, as this story points out, this suggestion didn’t go anywhere when the Reagan Administration tried it a long time ago. I think it’s more likely that some kind of limitation on total deductibility will be proposed, along the lines of AGI ceiling or floor suggestions made previously by the Congressional Budget Office.
I also think that the CBO makes a valid point or two in discussing the policy implications of this tax issue:
Millions of us have a personal incentive to watch what happens with this and other Federal income tax reform proposals—and not all of us live within home delivery range of the New York Times. My suggestion is to figure out what the total package would do, before becoming upset with any one part of it.
December 26, 2004
I sometimes think the hard work of headline writing is unappreciated.
There are certain stock stories, perennials really, that crop up throughout the year. The pieces are almost always a near-copy of last year’s, or at least some year where the phenomenon noted repeats similar events from some time ago.
Consider, for example, the humble post-Christmas retail shopping piece. We’ve all read them umpteen times, or at least skimmed them as we worked through the newspaper on the way to the sales flyers.
Just think for a few seconds about how hard it must be to come up with an original, catchy take on a fundamentally dulled-by-repetition story like this one.
Not easy, is it?
That’s why I can understand how the AP headline folks made no effort at all to dress up yet another story about how folks wait until after Christmas to spend their holiday dollars in the nation’s retail outlets. Perhaps the writers simply gave up, and didn’t care if anyone noticed.
Actually, one part of the story looked a bit more interesting than usual, seeing as how it mostly matched our own family’s experience:
That passage ties in with two parts of what happened with our gang. We don’t do luxury shopping, but we significantly increased our use of gift cards, gift certificates, and online shopping opportunities. And from the conversations I heard yesterday, several gift cards are burning holes in certain daughters’ pockets, in fact.
I give this headline three Claudes, on the theory that by sticking to something this obvious, they were actually going for irony.
It almost worked, too.
December 25, 2004
Best wishes of the holiday season to you and yours!
Writing this blog is a lot of fun, not least of which because of the opportunity it provided to meet some fine folks from all over. I know it’s not the most popular spot to visit on the Internet, but there’s a steady stream of returning readers that is nonetheless extremely gratifying. Thanks so much for stopping by.
And this season always reminds me of a song I loved to sing as a young, extremely avid reader of comic strips:
Go here for the rest of the lyrics, and have a great day!
December 24, 2004
I had no idea that Diane Feinstein hated Joe Biden this much.
How else to explain the California Senator’s announced intention to seek a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College?
The fact that the Republicans won the last two elections is the most obvious explanation why Feinstein and other Democrats would like to change the rules.
After all, it must seem so much easier to re-arrange how presidential elections are conducted, than to seek change in the Democrats’ party platform to restore them to majority status.
But that’s just too easy. Some might accuse me of being a tad Delaware-centric, but it sure looks like the real story behind this proposal is an attempt to keep Joe Biden from running for President.
I can just hear her now:
In fairness to Biden, it’s hard enough to win the White House from a very small state as it is. But if Feinstein’s amendment passes, why would any highly self-esteeming little-state Senator even think of trying?
Besides, logically it’s a very small step from eliminating the Electoral College to also eliminating the one complementary element of the Constitutional scheme that truly protects small states on a day-to-day basis—the Senate’s structure for representation, at Article I, Section 3.
Fortunately, the amendment ratification process should help protect Biden and the rest of us Delawareans from such schemes. The big-state types have to somehow convince enough small-staters to give up what remains of their political influence. Lincoln Chafee’s support for Feinstein notwithstanding, I don’t believe there are enough leaders from small states willing to commit mass political suicide.
Besides, I’ll bet Chafee’s probably just masking how he really feels about Joe.
Hat tip: Captain's Quarters.
December 23, 2004
Today President Bush announced his intention to re-nominate several judges who agreed to be re-nominated, and on which Senate Democrats and their allies expended so much energy to oppose them the first time.
Several commendable aspects of this interesting political maneuver come to mind.
I like the fact that the political loyalty expressed by the President to his nominees is being articulated so forcefully. For the remainder of this second term, that kind of respect is bound to help encourage others to accept the grueling process of seeking Senatorial consent for additional judicial openings. It should also speak volumes to the rest of the GOP faithful.
The re-nominations also reaffirm that the President means what he says. In the immediate aftermath of his re-election, he said he has political capital and fully intends to spend it. These re-nominations will certainly draw on that account, albeit in a very different kind of Senate atmosphere than existed before November 2004. Tom Daschle’s absence and the increase in the Republican majority, combined with some potential Democratic weaknesses among the 2006 Senate election prospects, may make continued filibustering far riskier.
For these nominees, the Republicans shepherding them the Senate also have the advantage of familiarity. Their resumes have not significantly changed; they have already met most of the Senators likely to vote for them; and even more importantly, the Democratic opposition has already taken their best shots with whatever materials they had at hand during the first experience. For most of these potential Federal judges, it’s highly unlikely that their supporters will have to counter a whole new set of facts or arguments opposing their nominations.
Despite the angry comments expressed by the usual suspects, as in this Bloomberg report, several members of the opposition also have reason to smile at this latest perceived insult. Imagine how much easier their next round of fund-raising appeals will be, compared to the prospect of finding new mud to sling at a new set of nominees. That is why I tend to be just a tad bemused about the intemperate remarks released to the media in the immediate aftermath of today’s announcement.
There's no conflict with their real interests.
December 22, 2004
We returned tonight from a two-day fact-finding mission to Atlantic City.
One part of the trip reconfirmed a basic understanding of human nature.
For example, on several occasions on this blog and many others, political folks and others have been reminded that when they find themselves in a hole, the first step toward recovery is to stop digging.
In sometimes remarkably brisk episodes, we re-learned that adage as applied to gambling, even on five-cent video poker machines. Of course, the casinos depend on the ever-hopeful to set aside any inclination to follow this advice.
I believe Bill Cosby made a similar point a long time ago: “The casinos will take a nickel.”
He’s still right.
We stayed at Caesars, and the accommodations were very pleasant. On the casino floors there and at every other similar establishment, however, we began to wonder if the folks who work there suffer any hearing loss over time. Even during a relatively quiet mid-week in mid-December, the ringing and dinging of hundreds of slot machines can be deafening.
We also spent some time at The Borgata, the newest entry into the crowded New Jersey casino market. The MGM Mirage/Boyd Gaming operation appears to have hit upon a winning combination in the increasing competition for visitors, with a beautiful-looking design scheme, an incredibly brisk business in their poker parlor, several fine dining establishments, and high-end retail outlets. Several of the Boardwalk-area casinos now appear to recognize the benefits of adding nearby shopping opportunities for their customers, and are busy adding new retail space.
A recent news story noted that New Jersey casino industry leaders are well aware of the problems they face if Pennsylvania ever makes good on its recent decision to increase legal gambling in that state. Some of the improvement projects we saw over the last two days give every indication that the Atlantic City casinos have no intention of collectively saying, “Oh well—nice while it lasted.”
And as long as casino customers continue to forget to stop digging those holes, the gambling industry as a whole will survive and thrive, even as it reacts to an increasingly competitive market.
December 20, 2004
My work as a government attorney often involves trying to make others live up to their responsibilities for the choices they’ve made. Understandably, therefore, I tend to take a dim view of those who seek to evade their duties to others.
Perhaps that’s why I appreciated the terse manner in which the Sixth Circuit dealt with an attorney pro se litigant who relied upon a novel legal theory to argue against one of the more basic responsibilities of any human—the requirement to support one’s offspring.
According to the circuit opinion, the man had sexual relations with a woman who allegedly told him that she was taking birth control pills. Unbeknownst to him, she became pregnant, gave birth to the child, moved to another state, and married another man. The State of Kentucky eventually tracked down the child’s father, and brought an action seeking payments for child support. After the Kentucky courts ordered him to pay $851 per month, the man sued in Federal District Court in an attempt to have the Kentucky paternity law declared unconstitutional.
The plaintiff argued for a right not to become a father, allegedly inherent in the right to procreative privacy recognized in the abortion rights cases. The District Court ruled that Kentucky’s paternity laws were strong enough to withstand this claim, while noting the perfectly legal options that were always available to the man:
The reluctant father’s arguments fared no better on appeal:
As if the punctuate what they thought of the claim, the panel also upheld the District Court’s decision to order the plaintiff to pay the attorney’s fees and costs borne by the defendants:
Good for them.
I'm sure my fellow Deputy Attorneys General in the Child Support Enforcement Unit will appreciate the support this opinion gives them.
December 20, 2004
The little town of Dewey Beach is about 5 miles south of here, and is usually very quiet during the off-season.
That’s in stark contrast to the usually wild scene every summer weekend, when several thousand 20- and 30-somethings crowd into the condos, hotels, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, after a hard day working on their tans.
Apparently some young women decided to keep that alcohol-tinged summer tradition continuing, even into mid-December.
Here’s a great story from The Cape Gazette’s Police Reports Section:
There’s no word yet on whether the real stripper ever showed up.
December 20, 2004
This morning brought the first snow of the season, accompanied by bitter cold in the low teens, with a biting wind out of the northwest taking the wind chill down below zero.
Here’s what it looked like on a local golf course:
I wasted no time returning to my car after this shot. Brrr.
December 19, 2004
This week's golf column lists the top five golf books whose reviews appeared in the column during the past year. They're all good gift selections for book-loving golfers, and the links in the column will whisk you directly to Amazon.
December 19, 2004
One of my wife’s girlfriends suggested we all go to the Living Nativity at Conley's Chapel, the United Methodist Church in Angola. She been to the church’s outdoor re-enactment of Christ’s birth last year, and was deeply impressed.
Judging from this year’s presentation, I could see why.
We arrived there a few minutes before the 6:30 p.m. start, and already there were hundreds of folks in line. Fire police and other volunteers did a good job of managing the heavy traffic on the two-lane roads, with the church’s regular parking set aside for the disabled and a nearby farm field handling the rest of us.
At the entrance, a college-age boy in costume handed out small coins to each visitor, and told then to hand over the coin during the Tax Collector and Roman Soldiers scene. A few volunteers staffed a table where a steady stream of visitors dropped off donated canned goods.
Groups of a dozen or so were then guided gently from costumed scene to scene, as a narrator for each familiar part of the story explained what was happening and why.
At the end of the display, visitors were invited to go into the tiny church to listen to live performances of Christmas music. Most of the folks I saw took the opportunity.
According to a Sussex Post story, 4,000 people attended the Living Nativity last year, with more expected this year for the three-night display. The weather’s cold but clear, and I believe they will easily make that goal.
Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.
That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.
© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005