Late Evening Reads: After the Frenzy

Oh boy, it is late…well then, good later evening!

Today I was cooking those 7 pounds of meatballs, and while I was cooking I got to see three full length movies…funny that is usually how I gauge time while I am in the kitchen. So, I saw Salt, Lone Star State of Mind and Marigold…talk about three movies that could be so different for each other.

Here are tonight’s reads, I will start with the big news that has got a lot of attention. The Mega Million’s Jackpot.

Illinois is selling lottery tickets online, people in California are waiting in line to buy their tickets…and like my family today, when those meatballs were done and the feeding frenzy began…all around the nation, folks are putting their dollar down and hoping that ticket brings them a big payout.

Mega Millions: $540-million jackpot fever sweeps California –

Mega Millions lines

The borrowed pickup truck, a crack inching its way across the windshield, lumbered into the parking lot off Sunset Boulevard a little before noon Thursday. Diana Delmuro parked illegally, grabbed her purse and dashed inside Silversun Liquor. She slapped a crinkled dollar bill on the counter.

“Mega!” she said with a broad smile. “And make it a lucky one.”

Record Mega Millions jackpot sets off ticket-buying frenzy –

Sierra Luchien, left, and Tammy Redlen celebrate as they walk into the Bluebird Liquor store in Hawthorne, Calif., after waiting in line for nearly three hours to purchase their Mega Millions lottery ticket.

Getty Images

Sierra Luchien, left, and Tammy Redlen celebrate as they walk into the Bluebird Liquor store in Hawthorne, Calif., after waiting in line for nearly three hours to purchase their Mega Millions lottery ticket.

With a world record $540 million (and growing) jackpot at stake, much of the nation is gripped by Mega Millions fever.

Millions of lottery tickets are being snapped up ahead of Friday night’s Mega Millions drawing, which could provide a lucky ticket holder with a lump-sum payoff of about $390 million.

From Vermont to Louisiana and New York to California, the jackpot has been the wistful talk of TV, social media sites, office water coolers and dreamy high rollers for the past week, electrifying ticket sales with a frenzy likely to amp up even further ahead of Friday night’s drawing at 11 p.m. ET.

I have to say, I really love that picture of those women dancing with their tickets.

Illinois sells lottery online as jackpot soars –

…Illinois picked the right week to become the first state in the nation to sell lottery tickets online. Others are watching closely to see if the new approach pays off and whether the state takes the next big step: launching online poker, blackjack and other casino games.

It took only three minutes for the first online lottery ticket to sell once the system went live at 7 a.m. Sunday. By Thursday evening, more than $425,000 worth of tickets had been sold online, and officials expected sales to increase by the hour as people take their shot at Friday night’s record prize.

Internet sales on Thursday alone amounted to just more than $64,000 by evening, while the day’s retail sales topped $3.2 million.

Alright, any of you folks buy the winning ticket…just keep the Sky Dancers in the back of your mind. I am sure each of us would be happy with a little token. I’ve already got my agreement with Fannie, one of our readers…Krispy Kreme donuts, for at least a year…if not for life. I wonder what the other front pagers would like if one of our readers won. See, I am pessimistic enough not to think in terms of, if I won a half a billion dollars…my luck would not permit that. But to think that perhaps someone I know would win it, that is a different story.

Moving on, MSNBC is leading its world news tonight with this story:

Child witnesses to Afghan massacre say Robert Bales was not alone

Here are two versions of what happened the night of March 11, when 17 Afghan villagers were shot to death.

First, the Army version: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, troubled by marriage woes, drunkenly left Camp Belambai, 12 miles from Kandahar, with a pistol and an automatic rifle and killed six people as they slept. Bales then returned to the base and left again for another village, this time killing 11. He acted alone and he admitted to the killings, according to the Army.

Then there is the account that child witnesses provided Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia. Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.

Dateline video at the link.

This next link is something I would like our resident Ph.D. Boston Boomer to chime in on: Man who evaluated alleged Sandusky victim in 1998 was not psychologist

After State College psychologist Alycia Chambers talked to an 11-year-old boy about Jerry Sandusky showering with him in May 1998, she concluded Sandusky was exhibiting signs of grooming the boy for sexual abuse.

A couple days later, a counselor, John Seasock, met with the boy and had a different conclusion. The showering episode, Seasock determined, was rather the result of a routine that coaches like Sandusky do after a workout.

Centre County prosecutors did not pursue criminal charges against Sandusky after that incident, and whether the competing conclusions factored into that decision remains a subject of conjecture.

But, almost 14 years later, the fact that Seasock wasn’t a psychologist at the time, according to state records, raises questions about how much weight his opinion should have carried.

“To take that person’s word over a psychologist who has been prepared and licensed by the state is, I would say, very surprising and a serious concern,” said Marolyn Morford, a State College psychologist.

Morford said Tuesday she’s been alarmed by Seasock’s representation as a psychologist at the time in question. That’s how the Penn State police investigation report refers to him, and that’s how Seasock has been referred to in media reports after the document was leaked Saturday.

State records show that Seasock has been licensed as a professional counselor since January 2002. Prior to 1998, counselors didn’t need to be registered, and after a law passed that year, Seasock had four years to apply to the state for a license.

Hmmm…interesting, yes?

Meanwhile in other Fukushima’d up news…Remember that phrase from last year, playing on the words “fucked up,” as in a term of endearment…just like the phrase Fukushima Goons…

Still critical: radiation levels at Fukushima can kill in minutes –  I tried to find an article in the Japanese press, but could not. Even though this article here cites a post from NHK.

 A lethal level of radiation has been detected inside one of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, throwing fresh doubts over the operator’s claims that the disabled complex is under control.

Engineers for Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) say readings of airborne radiation inside the containment vessel of Reactor 2 showed nearly 73 sieverts per hour this week, the highest since the crisis began following the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March last year. Exposure to radiation at that level is deadly within minutes, according to Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.

Tepco said the find would have “no impact” on the company’s long-term plans to decommission the plant’s six reactors. “We were not surprised that the radiation was this high because the reading was taken from inside the pressure vessel,”a spokesperson said.

I don’t believe a word that TEPCO says, do you? You can read the rest of the story at the link.

And lastly, I caught this story earlier today and it actually made me scratch my head and wonder, what year is this?

Vote: Is it time for Augusta to get first female member?

If there is a drumbeat to admit the first woman to Augusta National, but officials don’t hear it, does it make a sound?

The home of the Masters has found itself back in the speculation business with questions of whether IBM CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty will be offered a membership.

Tradition has been that the CEOs of Exxon, AT&T and IBM — the three Masters sponsors — get a membership. But this is the first a time a woman has held that position.

USA TODAY columnist Christine Brennan thinks it is time that a woman walks through the gates as a member.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN:  Columnist says it is time for a female member at Augusta

(It is)…one of the most majestic and beautiful sports venues on earth, and it hosts one of the world’s great sporting events, the Masters. But at its core, it’s a place where change comes by the century, not the year or decade, which is exactly as Augusta’s leaders want it.

At least that’s the way it used to be.

Others disagree saying Augusta is a private club and should make whatever membership rules it prefers.

Say what? There are no…repeat no, female members of this private club? What the hell is it with these people…aren’t there women who are also part of the 1%?

What do you think about all that? Comments are below, get busy!

Taxes are the solution, not the problem

As far as I can tell, if corporations and the top 1% paid anything like a fair share of taxes, budget problems would melt away.

I feel a bit like the recent physicists who seemed to find faster-than-light neutrinos in their data. (There’s the big difference that I’m an amateur at taxes, and they’re anything but amateurs at physics.) But, like them, I’m so boggled by the results that I want to throw it out there for people to pick apart.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The current US deficit is around $1.5 trillion per year. Current US GDP is around $14 trillion per year. Current yearly tax revenues are near $1.1 trillion (IRS pdf, 2008 numbers). In better years revenue is higher, deficits are lower.

An aside: Those numbers are smaller than the multiple trillions of cuts the Super Committee throws around. That’s because they say they need to come up with money for ballooning future costs of social insurance. (The powers-that-be didn’t seem to be worried about the future when tax cuts were implemented.) I don’t consider those future costs a real issue. Social Security doesn’t have any real problems. National health care costs could be cut in half with Medicare for All, based on the evidence from all the industrialized countries that do have national health care systems. (Link is to Congressional Research Service, 2004, pdf. See e.e Table 1, Fig. 1, Fig. 2.) So Medicare for All is the place to start for anyone who is actually concerned about future costs, and not some other agenda.

Further, a healthy deficit level is said to be around 2% of yearly GDP. In addition to other considerations, the ability to buy US Treasury bonds and bills is an important factor in global finance. Zero deficit means the end of that whole asset class, which is not a Good Thing. One wants a sustainable and easily carryable deficit, and 2% is a conservative estimate of that level. Two percent of $14 trillion is $280 billion. (I saw this most clearly expressed somewhere in Krugman’s writing, but all I can find right now is a passing reference here.)

So the yearly shortfall, in round numbers, is $1.2 trillion ($1.5T deficit – 0.280T healthy deficit).

If Fortune 500 corporations actually paid tax on their corporate profits, there’d be much less freeloading from that end. When even Marketwatch headlines “Big Profits, Zero Taxes” you know it’s not a small issue. It’s hard (for me) to find unequivocal numbers on how much difference that would make to revenue, but there are fairly clear data on corporate tax payments as a share of GDP. It’s now at a recent all-time low of 1% of GDP. Moving that back to 4%, about where it was in the 1960s would bring in an extra $480 billion (1% of GDP = $160B, 3% = 480B).

That would entail ending all the corporate loopholes, such as income-shifting in transnationals to whichever tax haven suits them that year, as well as ending special tax breaks for wildly profitable industries such as oil and finance. It would involve adding necessary new taxes, such as a financial transaction tax that would have other beneficial social consequences by slowing down market trading velocity. And it would involve raising rates on large corporations. (Update from comments below: 25 CEOs received more in compensation than their companies paid in taxes. Just mindboggling.)

Then, the other task is to raise taxes on the top 1%. According to the IRS (pdf), in 2008 the top 1% was composed of households making an average of $1.2 million per year. Their effective tax rate is 20% ±5% (CBO pdf, Table 3), and at that rate they contributed well over $350 billion in tax revenue. (For instance, in 2009 the top 1% contributed 36.7% of total income taxes. That proportion is typical during the last decade, plus or minus a few percent. Total income tax revenue in 2008, the last year for which I could find complete IRS data, was $1.081 trillion. 36% of 1.081T = $389 billion.) If their tax rates went to 60%, there would be an extra $700 billion revenue.

So, $700 billion plus $480 billion approaches $1.2 trillion, pretty much the entire yearly shortfall of $1.2 trillion.

That doesn’t pay down the debt. Nor does it provide funds for essential projects such as switching to clean, sustainable energy. But those are one-time charges, as it were, not permanent features of fiscal balance, which I gather is what the Super Committee is worrying about.

Raising taxes on the megarich is not the same as taxing the middle class. It’s not even taxing the upper middle class, such as the heart surgeons and mid-size successful business owners. It involves only having the massively wealthy corporations and households pay something vaguely like their fair share. What’s more, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to their lifestyles. For an income of $1.2 million per year, that tax increase would drop them from living on $80,000 per month to living on $40,000 per month. They could still jet to Paris for the weekend. Anybody who feels deprived living on $40,000 per month needs therapy, not tax breaks.

All this is something to think about while the news covers the new super ways the Super Committee has found to shred the safety net. Nor is this just a classic “Don’t tax him, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.” The fellow behind the tree has been tax cheating for far too long, and it’s time to rebalance. If the megarich paid their fair share, we could have a future that was more than collapsing bridges and work on their plantations.

Crossposted to Acid Test