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.

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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)

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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)