Tuesday, November 27, 2012

News you didn't hear about

If tax deductions are limited to raise more federal revenue, it will hit California taxpayers the hardest. On average, Californians claim the biggest share of tax deductions in the nation—$33,901 in 2010—mostly due to high mortgage deductions. The national average deduction in
2010 for those who itemized was $26,112.
The Wall Street Journal

America now has more computer software engineers than farmers. More than 1 million people are trying to make a living writing apps and other software.
The New York Times

Army suicides have hit a record high, with 166 active-duty soldiers suspected of taking their own lives so far this year. The problem has grown so severe that the Army ordered a service-wide “stand-down” in September, requiring soldiers to put aside their usual duties and discuss suicide prevention.
Associated Press

The U.S. electrical grid is so old and prone to failure that, even without a devastating storm like
Hurricane Sandy, some 500,000 Americans lose electricity for at least two hours every single day.
Washington Monthly

Laws prohibiting smoking in bars, restaurants, and workplaces are now on the books in 30 of the 50 largest U.S. cities. In 2000, only one city—San Jose—had such a ban.
The Hill

Poll watch
65% of Americans believe President Obama will make a sincere effort to compromise with Republicans and create bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. 48% say they think congressional Republicans will be willing to compromise.
Gallup Poll

57% of Americans say Israel is justified in taking military action in Gaza. 25% say the action is unjustified.
CNN/ORC International Poll

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The rock ’n’ roll accountant- former GnR basses now financial adviser

These days, Duff McKagan is more excited by spreadsheets than by sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, said Adam Sherwin in The Independent (U.K.). The Seattle-born musician spent 12 years in the 1980s and early 1990s playing bass with notoriously debauched rock band Guns N’ Roses. He snorted piles of cocaine and drank 10 bottles of red wine a day, and in 1994 ended up in the hospital with a burst pancreas. Doctors told him to give up drinking or die. Bored and in recovery, he decided to look over his Guns N’ Roses financial statements. “I wanted to learn to read these, but I didn’t trust anybody,” says McKagan, 48. “I just got a light bulb in my head and said, ‘I want to go to school.’” So he took business and accountancy classes, and today runs a fund-management company focused on financial advice for his guitar-slinging peers. McKagan’s big regret is that he wasn’t business-savvy in 1988, when Fox TV called him to say they planned to name a beer—Duff—after him in a new animated series. “I knew nothing about branding yourself or royalties. I just thought, ‘Cool, they wanna use my name,’ and boom, The Simpsons was born. Yeah, if I had a nickel for every time…but it’s fine.”


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A better pay scheme for Washington?

If we paid our lawmakers for performance, said Sheila Bair, “maybe we could get them to focus on doing their jobs.” Performance-linked pay has improved management practices in the private sector, so why not devise a pay scheme that encourages our elected officials to spend less time fundraising and more time governing? Corporate directors typically make half of their compensation in company stock, to align their incentives with a company’s long-term profitability. Similarly, we could give members of Congress half their pay in Treasury bonds. “If the economy does well and if they get our fiscal house in order,” those T-bonds should hold their value; if they continue their profligate ways, their pay would drop. We could go even further than that and make their pay dependent on hitting certain economic benchmarks. A third of their bonds, say, could be linked to keeping the labor participation rate high, and another third contingent on economic growth. The final third could depend on how well voters think lawmakers are working together. It’s worth a shot. Aligning pay with long-term performance has worked on Wall Street. “Why not try it with the folks in D.C.?”

Sheila Bair

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Interesting Business News

Apple paid a corporate tax rate of just 1.9 percent on its earnings outside the U.S. in the last fiscal year, according to a U.S. regulatory filing. The electronics giant paid $713 million on foreign profits of $36.87 billion in the year ending Sept. 29.

Nearly two-thirds of housing markets across the country are in worse shape now than when the bust began in 2008, according to a study of 919 counties by the research firm RealtyTrac. Worst hit are Atlanta, Tucson, Salt Lake City, and Cook County, Ill., where home prices have fallen nearly 20 percent in the last four years.
The Washington Post

United Airlines this week became the first U.S. carrier to fly paying passengers on Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. United Flight 1116 flew from Houston to Chicago, to raves from passengers. One aircraft enthusiast called the roomier and quieter jet “just awesome.”
USA Today

Deadbeat parents owe more than $100 billion in unpaid child support, according to the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Half of these payments—some $53 billion-—are owed for the support of children on taxpayer-funded public assistance.

Goldman Sachs has trimmed the ranks of its richly remunerated partners to keep expenses down. The investment bank announced that it now has 407 partners, 31 fewer than it had in February. Goldman is completing a $1.9 billion cost-cutting program, but total pay is up 10 percent from last year.

Selling cookies with social media
At 14, Olivia Ottenfeld felt she needed a new approach to selling Girl Scout cookies, said Victor Luckerson in Time. No longer one of those “pint-sized Brownies who can sell a box with an adorable smile,” she turned to social media “to reach the very outer limits of her family’s social circle.” This year many others among the nation’s 1.5 million Girl Scouts also connected to customers using email, text messaging, and Facebook, generating record-breaking sales of 214 million boxes, or “about 143 boxes per small businesswoman.” Ottenfeld sold 2,012 boxes, generating around $8,000 in revenue, three quarters of which goes to the Scouts. “Her business strategy is pretty simple: Appeal to a large customer base with a quality product.” Ottenfeld says she’s contemplating a career in business or public relations when her scouting days are over.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is the American Dream dead?

The American Dream: What went wrong?

Anyone can get rich in America, said Mary Sanchez in The Kansas City Star. All you have to do is “pick a rich daddy.” Forbes magazine has released its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, and though the editors touted the inclusion of Oprah Winfrey and a few other rags-to-riches billionaires as proof that “the American Dream is still very much alive,” the rankings actually prove the opposite. A recent study found that only 35 percent of the Forbes 400 were raised poor or middle class. The rest were “born on third base”—inheriting their fortunes, or starting their empires with a big head start from well-to-do families. Social mobility was once considered “the heart of the American Dream,” said Ron Brownstein in National Journal. Every generation was expected to be a little more successful and prosperous than their parents. But today, a child born poor in a European nation has a far better chance of making it to the top than one born poor in the U.S. Two thirds of American children born to the lowest-earning 20 percent of parents will stay stuck in the bottom 40 percent all their lives.
The rich, meanwhile, keep getting richer, said Joe Nocera in The New York Times. While the median household income dropped by 4 percent last year, the cumulative wealth of the Forbes 400 increased by a whopping $200 billion. One reason for this growing disparity is that the wealthy invariably move their millions into investments, which are taxed at the low, 15 percent “capital gains” rate. That’s because the rich effectively write the tax code, said Les Leopold in Salon.com. The wealthier they get, the more money they spend on political lobbying and donations, which buys them yet more tax breaks, loopholes, bailouts, and financial deregulation, thus enabling them to amass even more wealth. “Meanwhile, the middle class continues its slow decline.”
The real problem is our failing education system, said Laura Tyson in NYTimes.com. A college degree has never been more important for those who want to climb the income ladder—a college graduate today earns at least 75 percent more than someone with only a high school diploma. But as the gulf between rich and poor widens, children who grow up in poverty—amid dysfunctional adults, struggling schools, crime, and social chaos—simply can’t compete academically with kids from the affluent side of town. We’re perilously close to creating a “permanent underclass,” for whom the American Dream is a cruel lie.
Perhaps it always was, said Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post. There’s nothing wrong with optimism about the future, but the Dream backfires when government tries to guarantee that every American will “live better than their parents” and achieve “personal fulfillment.” The belief that everyone should own homes, for example, led the government to pressure and incentivize banks to give mortgages to millions of people who couldn’t afford them; the resulting housing bubble burst in 2008, nearly wrecking our economy. The belief that everyone should go to college led millions of students to take on huge debt for educations they didn’t complete or that didn’t lead to promised jobs. There’s a sobering lesson here: In the real world, not everyone can succeed, and the future isn’t always better than the past. “It’s time to retire the American Dream,” for it has become “an act of collective self-deception.”

Article from "The Week"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

News and stats you need to know 11/4/12

The bottom line

Just one year out of college, women make only 82 percent of what their male peers are paid, according to a new study. It found that the gender pay gap, typically attributed to mothers leaving the workforce or men choosing higher-paid fields, exists even among young employees who had the same majors and were unlikely to have children yet. The
Washington Post

The U.S. economy grew 2 percent over the past three months, its fastest pace all year, thanks to strong gains in housing and consumer spending. But the annualized growth rate this year is just 1.7 percent, below last year’s tepid 1.8 percent and 2010’s 2.4 percent. Associated Press

College students who say their parents argued about money when they were growing up are twice as likely to have more than two credit cards as those whose parents didn’t—and three times as likely to have a large amount of debt. Time.com

Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was sentenced to two years in prison last week for leaking insider secrets to former hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam. Gupta is the most prominent executive yet to face prison time in the government’s crackdown on insider trading. The Wall Street Journal

Online readers helped U.S. newspapers avoid a steep decline in circulation this year. Average daily circulation at the country’s 613 dailies fell 0.2 percent for the six months ending in September from a year earlier, but digital readers accounted for 15.3 percent of the total, up from 9.8 percent last year. The New York Times
Bank robber has last laugh

Who says crime doesn’t pay? said Katy Dartford in The Daily Mail (U.K.). An Austrian court has ordered that stolen cash be given to a bank robber because it “can’t find anybody else to take the money.” In 1993, bank manager Otto Neuman made off with more than $240,000 in cash and gold bars. By the time he was caught, just $82,000 could be recovered, and the money has been sitting at the Austrian Justice Ministry ever since. The bank won’t claim the cash because its insurance company covered the loss. The insurer also refused the money, since the gold that was recovered had “substantially increased in value” and erased losses from the payout. So a court awarded the funds to Neuman, who served three and a half years in jail for the robbery. “To say that he was surprised was an understatement,” said Neuman’s lawyer.

Some interesting talking points for the week 11/4/2012

More than 58,000 television ads on the presidential race were broadcast over the last month in Ohio. To view them all, you’d have to watch ads 24 hours a day for 80 days.

Racial animosity toward minorities has grown worse in the four years since the U.S. elected its first black president, according to a scientific survey by Stanford University. In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit prejudice toward blacks, associating them with such terms as “lazy” and “violent.” In 2008, 48 percent expressed such associations.
Associated Press

The Wall Street Journal
In every presidential election since 1980, women have voted at a higher rate than men. In 2008, 60.4 percent of women voted, compared with 55.7 percent of men.
USA Today

Wikipedia has essentially finished cataloging the world’s current knowledge. With 4 million entries, the collaborative Internet encyclopedia is running out of new topics and old topics to edit.

Poll watch
The presidential race may be close in the U.S., but in most of the world, it’s a landslide. In a survey of 21,797 people in 21 countries, 50% preferred President Obama to win, while 9% preferred Mitt Romney. The only country in which Romney was more popular was in Pakistan—the target of many U.S. drone attacks. There, Romney edged out Obama, 14% to 11%.

Presidential Elections- A case for Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney has been an “effective leader his entire career,” said The Detroit News, both in the private sector and in government. As a venture capitalist with Bain Capital, he gained the “ability to make a deal” between warring parties—experience he put to use as governor of Massachusetts, where he worked with Democrats to reform health care and education policy. In 2002, he proved his skill as a turnaround expert by transforming the Salt Lake City Olympics from a fi nancial disaster into a success. It’s our belief that Romney will use his experience as a businessman and a leader to turn around our country. He will reconcile our divided Congress and “employ a results-oriented approach” to creating jobs and taming big government, all while being “mindful of his customer, the taxpayer.”

We just can’t afford four more years of Obama, said the Boston Herald. His “vague promises of hope and change” have led us down a radical, redistributionist path. The $767 billion stimulus package offered the country nothing but “ecocronyism,” with energy companies like Solyndra receiving taxpayer cash in return for political favors. Over the four years of economic stagnation since he was elected, more than 4 million people have given up even looking for work. And under Obama’s rule, a nation that was once a “shining beacon” of liberty around the world now prefers to “lead from behind.” That means bowing to Vladimir Putin in Russia, “looking away from the human rights abuses of our bankers in China,” and failing to stop Iran from moving toward nuclear armament. At home and abroad, “that’s not change we can believe in.”
Obama’s failures can be summed up in one “ham-fi sted power play,” said the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch. That’s Obamacare—the “massive, one-party overhaul of health care” he rammed through Congress instead of fi xing the economy. Romney, on the other hand, has pledged to fi x health care, said the Richmond, Va., Times- Dispatch, using “means-testing, market solutions, competition, and state-level innovation” to prevent Medicare and Social Security from going bankrupt. He has also promised to replace Obamacare with reforms that will neither “bust the budget” nor “trample individual rights.” Repealing this job-killing legislation “may be the most effective stimulus package passed in nearly a decade.”

What this election comes down to, said The Des Moines Register, is “pulling the economy out of the doldrums.” That will require a president able to boost confi dence in the private sector, enabling it to renew spending and hiring. Judged by that yardstick, “Romney emerges the stronger candidate.” His formula of tax cuts and sweeping government obstruction out of the path of private industry should “unlock this nation’s economic potential.” Obama’s strategy of tax increases for the rich and more stimulus guarantees more division, and less private-sector confi dence. The president is a “decent man,” said the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and in many ways he has tried his best. “But even he predicted he would be a one-term president if he failed to turn things around.” He has failed—and so the choice is clear.