More reasons to stop loving the GOP

Ok, ok, first the House GOP speculates about scaling back the Senate bill on deductions for charitable giving by non-itemizers (aka, my friends, you and I). Now, in order to support the FOLLY of a dividend tax cut, they’re talking about ridding the exclusion on income tax for overseas workers?

Ok, so here’s the deal. You live in the US. You get the benefits of the US medical system. You get the benefits of the school system (of which, though limited, federal funding does play a part). You have the benefit of a fine transportation grid, emergency services, social services, and many, many other government programs. And, you pay income taxes for them.

You live overseas. You don’t enjoy the transportation network, the schools, the benefit of massive agricultural subsidies that keep farmers in business when there’s no true demand for their product, the police services, and all those other services and programs the government provides. Right now, the first $80,000 of your income is excluded from taxes. You don’t benefit, you don’t pay. This, somehow, seems fair to me. After all, you’re already paying income tax in the country you’re living in. Why should you also have to pay tax to a government whose services you aren’t taking advantage of?

Don’t impose a double taxation on expats all for a scheme to ensure tax-free largess for the already rich!


House GOP Against Charitable Deductions?

What does the House GOP have against the non-rich deducting charitable contributions? BusinessWeek says, on a new bill passed by the Senate, that “House Republicans will try to slice the earmarked $13 billion, which includes $1.3 billion in block grants to states for social services.”

They can support a bill around $400 billion what would give tax-free dividends, which would flow primarily to those such as CEO Sandy Weill of Citigroup (who, according to my rought estimate based on the most recent SEC filings would reap $9 million a year), but can’t give the average non-itemizing individual the ability to deduct a few hundred dollars in charitable giving? And $1.3 billion to states for social services? Considering the budget deficits at the state level, they’d be better off giving 20 times that!



My new blog site generated its first phone call today… 🙂


Le Quebec


I’m back from a pleasant weekend in Quebec (actually, I was back yesterday), where I was re-awakened to some of le francais that I used to know back from my school days. It was a wonderful time reading signs en francais and listening to people talk, even if I could barely string together a sentence. And, perhaps the best part about Quebec is how many of the residents are able to switch to anglais if necessary. In fact, that was a common question among many of the interactions, francais ou anglais?

The single most interesting moment of the trip was at la musee de la civilisations, where, during the skin exhibit, I had an opportunity to view an open Egyptian sarcophagus, with the body undwrapped. The viewing actually satisified a morbid kind of curiosity I have had for years; whenever I have visited a museum that’s featured them, I’ve always wondered what it would look like inside. It did live up to expecations, I would say.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t co-operate on le Samedi, where it rained. All day. Incessantly. And it was cold. But what can you do? So, I trekked on, with a giant red and white maple-leaf parapluie that I bought at a tourist shop since I forgot my own umbrella. On the plus side, I was asked if I was British, which both surprised and amused me. Maybe one day yet I’ll be a British gentleman.

I’ll post the photos sometime this weekend. And it’s likely I’ll post less frequently as well, as my thoughts are otherwise occupied this week.


All Set!

Well, I’m all set for my trip Quebec this weekend! Have a good weekend!


One More Things…

One additional item cut from the budget completely was the OSRP (Outstanding Scholars Recruitment Program) scholarship, which provided a varying amount of money to NJ high school seniors based upon certain academic credentials from high school. This program influenced my decision to Rutgers, as I had not originally intended to go to Rutgers at all. Now, I have both a degree and I have emerged from college loan-free, which I have found provides a strong advantage when compared with other recent college graduates. Word of this cut left me extremely disappointed…


RAA Board of Directors Meetings

Two interesting points (I thought so, anyway) I would like to raise from tonight’s RAA Board of Directors meeting I attended tonight.

1. Instead of applying to Rutgers College, Livingston, or several of the other schools, they will now apply to the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. They will then be placed in to the “appropriate” school as defined by admissions. I assume that students interested in Pharmacy, Engineering, and other speciality schools will still have to indicate that they would like to apply to such schools. I also will go out on a limb and assume you must still have an “F” under gender on your driver’s license to get in to Douglass.

2. The second point is the emphasis placed surrounding the state budget cuts. The allocation to Rutgers will be cut 12% from the prior year, which was already cut mid-year last year. A 4.5% tuitition hike has been proposed to cover some of the cuts as well as the overall increase in expenses, but that won’t cover the whole shortfall.

From the state’s point of view, I can understand. They’re facing an incredible shortfall, in part as a result of the fiscal policy of the prior administration, which cut taxes and increased spending at a time of record government revenues that unsurprisingly turned out to be unsustainable.

In truth, the part that I find frustrating is the fiscal policy at the federal level. While the states have a certain responsibility to cover their own shortfalls, in place of a “silly” (in my opinion) dividend tax cut that will benefit relatively few, the money would be much better spent aiding the states. I have read in several places (and will seek out sources in the near future) that the amount of money from the federal government sent to public higher education institutions has fallen over the past several years/decades. So, it would not be out of character for the federal government to renew their assistance to important social goods such as education. After all, which serves as a better future investment, a dividend tax cut that does little for many, or ensuring that the next generation of Americans is better educated than the previous?


“Sham of a Recovery”

Can it be? The bearish sentiment of the US Business Outlook section of BusinessWeek (April 28) is starting to brighten up?

Given the bounce in household spending, it now appears that the weak winter data were distorted by the temporary effects of severe weather, war worries, and higher energy prices, all of which are now turning around. That was true for industrial production, which fell 0.5% in March, after a 0.1% dip in February. Excluding a weather-related drop in utilities output, production fell only 0.2% last month, and all of that reflects a drop in only one sector, auto output. Even there, the return of cheap financing should boost car sales this spring and lift production schedules.

Just two weeks ago we were reading how the end was near (April 14).

THE GROWING CONCERN is that the economy’s weaker-than-expected showing so far this year will continue into the second half. The main worry is consumer spending, which fell in January and February and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back in March, according to weekly store surveys. That suggests that real consumer outlays, as they enter into the gross domestic product data, grew at an annual rate of only about 1% in the first quarter. That would be the weakest quarterly showing for consumer spending in 10 years.

Oh well, now we just need to get through “this sham of a recovery”.


May is Movie Month!

I’m quite excited, coming in the next few weeks are the theatrical releases of the X-Men and Matrix sequels. While I normally don’t care much for big budget action movies or sequels, I’m thrilled for these two!


Japan and SARS

I was reviewing the SARS Worldwide Infection Count, and I noticed something I thought intriguing. Though Japan often receives a great deal of prestige and respect in certain areas within the world, the lack of SARS cases can be used as an indicator of one of two things. It either indicates that despite Tokyo’s reputation as a major international destination, it has remained farther outside the interconnectedness that has come about through the process of globalization over the past ten years, or, that Japan’s healthcare system is inadequate and unable to identify the disease.

Dogs and Demons, a well-written examination of modern Japan, paints a critical picture in both these areas. According to Kerr, doctors, inventors, and other professionals, often at the top of their professions, are leaving the country to head overseas. Corporations, too, are looking outside Japan; Sony was willing to take massigve losses in Hollywood when it purchased Columnia Pictures: there would be no purpose in buying or developing Japanese movie studios, since the Japanese movie industry had almost completed collapsed. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), set up a fund to invest in entrepenuers, but JETRO has a condition that young tigers move to the United States and learn how to do business there. Okabe [owner of a company that makes software for digital effects] sells software in the United States because he cannot find buyers at home. But perhaps the most distressing point he makes is the fate of the ex-pat community.
The elite of fast-track investment bankers who were stationed in Japan transferred to Hong Kong and Singapore in the early 1990s, leaving second-string players in Tokyo. Long-established foreign communities in Kobe and Yokohama, dating to Meiji days, have shrunk to nearly the vanishing point, and international schools are closing.

This alone would seem to account for much of the discrepency among the SARS case count. After all, even as domestic tourism waned, the number of Japanese traveling abroad nearly quardupled, from 5 million in 1985 to almost 16 million people in 1998. By 1999 this had risen to a record 17 million, with no end to the increase in sight; significantly, a high percentage of these travelers were what the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) calles “repeaters”, for whom travel abroad is a “habitual practice.” So, it is very likely that in fact tourists and business travelers have come and gone to Hong Kong and other infected regions. Why, else, then might there not be a larger incidence of SARS? After all, even Vietnam has identified more than sixty cases.

A single quote from the book, which is an exercept from an interview with a section chief at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, from March 29, 1997.

Interviewer: Does the Ministry of Health and Welfare have any policy for dealing with dioxin?
Section Chief: There is no policy whatsoever.
Interviewer: Has the MHW conducted any investigation concerning dioxin?
Section Chief: No idea.
Interviewer: Do you have any idea how much dioxin is out there?
Section Chief: No, we have not.
Interviewer: Have you set any guidelines for dioxin?
Section Chief: No, we have not.
Interviewer: Do you plan to?
Section Chief: No.
Interviewer: Do you have controls on dioxin emissions?
Section Chief: No.

In an example of incredible ignorance, a government official is essentially indicating that, in 1997, they have no concern over one of the most toxic substances known. How can it be that the second largest economy on the planet is run by a government that, in 1997, indicated it had no awareness of the issue. According to, The International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC] –part of the World Health Organization –announced February 14, 1997, that the most potent dioxin, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, is a now considered a Class 1 carcinogen, meaning a “known human carcinogen.” and that A draft report released for public comment in September 1994 by the US Environmental Protection Agency clearly describes dioxin as a serious public health threat. Would it then be any surprise that such a government would not be able to adequately identify any potential SARS cases, even if there were more than 2?

I truly enjoyed my time in Japan (both times) for the culture, both modern and “historical”. I specifically read news articles from Japan, enjoy consuming Japanese anime, and try to search out translated works of Japanese literature. I plan to take up the language (I’m registering for a language course at the Japan Society in New York at the end of May/beginning of June). But when I read Alex Kerr’s book, it had confirmed something I felt was strange during my two week trip and reconfirmed during my brief stopover in January. The homogenous nature of the population, the intensely youth-focused populare culture, and the “concretization” of the landscape are all very obvious, once you really look. It is unbelievable that a country could have no non-concrete-basin rivers, or, of that size, to have more dams than the United States. Reviewing the SARS cases just brought home some of the points made in the book.

Country Cases Infection Rate
Singapore 167 0.004%
Japan 2 0.0000016%
United States 199 0.000072%
Vietnam 63 0.00013%
Hong Kong 1297 0.018%