Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I'm not sure if I like this Kool-Aid
On the one hand, as some talking head noted this morning, Joe Biden, Barack Obama's recently selected running mate, can probably tell you how many homes he has without checking with his staff. He's spent 36 years in the Senate and though he won't be seen anytime soon standing in line for food stamps, he's of modest means compared to his Senate colleagues. That's significant when you consider how many elected officials manage to build a sizable fortune while serving in office. Biden's got integrity.
On the other hand, I've always regarded Biden as something of an arrogant windbag, and as Obama himself has correctly noted, experience doesn't always translate into good judgment, and Biden did not demonstrate the latter when, like Hillary Clinton, he gave George Bush his blank check for Iraq.
There's a third hand, which is that vice presidential nominees rarely if ever have much impact on the final outcome. They aren't difference makers. At best, they can boost your momentum, like Al Gore did for Bill Clinton in 1992, and at worst, they can kill it, the way Dan Quayle did for the first George Bush in 1988. (And what difference did that make in the end?) The days when a pick can truly blow up in your face, like Tom Eagleton did to George McGovern in 1972, are probably long gone. It's too hard to hide your skeletons anymore, and any presidential nominee nowadays that did such a poor job of vetting a VP pick doesn't deserve to get elected.
I heard one pollster this week say that Obama simply needed to pick someone who would make it through the first 72 hourrs without any problems, and so Biden, a rather known quantity, is a safe pick -- perhaps too safe, according to the AP's Ron Fournier:
He picked a 35-year veteran of the Senate - the ultimate insider - rather than a candidate from outside Washington, such as Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; or from outside his party, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; or from outside the mostly white male club of vice presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't even make his short list.
The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative - a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.
Let's face it -- Obama has already demonstrated that he doesn't want to be another noble Democratic loser, and if his brand has to take a hit in the process, so be it. John McCain certainly doesn't seem to be fretting too much over the damage his reputation as a maverick is taking as he tries to make nice with the same evangelicals he spurned in 2000. Something tells me Obama already has the votes sown up of those who want a new kind of politics -- at least those who want it on the left. Sure, he could have made a more daring pick, and I might have been happier if he had. But for far too many voters, Obama is risky enough.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Wasn't there a hobbit in that one?
Michael Machosky writes a paean in Sunday's Trib to a particular genre of '80s movie he dubs "Goonie Movies" in honor of "The Goonies." Few of the films Machosky mention stand the test of time, but that's hot his point: They were good popcorn films, with broader appeal than today's focus-group driven blockbusters.
While we may not see another "Goonies" anytime soon (which I don't think is a bad thing), we have witnessed the rebirth of a film genre that reached full flower back in the '80s: The R-rated comedy. I'm not the first person to herald the return of this species, which lately includes "Wedding Crashers", "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." Examples from the '80s that come to mind: "Caddyshack" and "Trading Places."
Now, the '90s gave us "American Pie" and "Road Trip", (the latter technically came out in 2000), both very funny, but those films largely were aimed at the same demographic they portrayed -- high school and college students. Today, even an ostensible high school comedy like "Superbad" seems made for people who have let a few years lapse since their last keg stand.
Of course, even some of the most memorable films from the 1980s bear the cheesy hallmarks of the era, like the montage -- "Wall Street" and "Tootsie", two very different films, each featured a split-screen montage -- and the original song that sounded like it came straight out of AM radio. (Not to mention the synthesizer-driven score.) It was indeed a memorable decade -- though not necessarily for the right reasons.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Sorry, Wall Street Journal
It turns out the estate tax isn't quite the villian it's made out to be in the Steelers' ownership dispute:
On the surface, the estate tax seems daunting -- 45 percent on all estates above $2 million in value. With the Rooneys' 80 percent share of the franchise being valued at $800 million or more on the open market, that would seem to make the family liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax liabilities.
In reality, though, few estates pay the full estate tax rate, and there is almost no evidence that any family-owned enterprises have had to dissolve or sell out because of the federal tax, said Ben Harris, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center in Washington, D.C., a joint operation of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute.
The tax center estimates that 17,500 estates will pay about $23 billion in federal estate taxes this year, for an average payment of just $1.3 million. Even the wealthiest estates -- those worth more than $20 million -- will pay an average tax rate of about 22 percent, less than half the official rate, the center estimates.
"The destruction of family businesses is often used as a motivation for repealing the estate tax, but there is very little proof that many family businesses are devastated by the tax," said Samuel Donaldson, a law professor at the University of Washington and a nationally known expert on estate tax matters.
"There are very few ways to get around the tax entirely," he added, "but there are any number of ways to reduce the tax." (link)
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Another third party candidate
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Will the last person out of the suburbs please turn out the lights
I'm not laughing. Really, I'm not:
Since real-estate tanked, many new planned communities across the country are half-empty, with for-sale signs outnumbering residents by a large margin.
Some of the projects abandoned by bankrupt developers are in places that were hotbeds of new housing construction: Southern California, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix. As of July, the percentage of vacant housing stock available for sale or rent stood at 4.8% nationally, the highest figure in at least 33 years, according to Zelman & Associates, a real-estate research firm.
Daily life in these developments seems a bit post-cataclysmic. Children play on elaborate but empty playgrounds. They walk their dogs past rows of shiny houses that have never been lived in. Voices echo up and down the block. Unfinished houses and vacant lots strewn with construction debris clutter the horizon. (link)