The Bush tax cut Armageddon could yield a better tax code

How much does the federal government actually spend? About $830 billion more than you think.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study by Donald Marron and Eric Toder. They analyzed so-called tax expenditures — the deductions, breaks and loopholes that clog the tax code — and sorted them into two groups: “spending substitutes” and “tax policy design…”

Other expenditures, however, are simply government spending programs by another name…

Marron and Toder counted about $600 billion of such expenditures in the 2010 tax code. Add in $230 billion in “user fees” that are counted as “negative spending” but are more like tax revenue, and you reach the $830 billion total — “almost 30 percent more than officially reported…”

But here’s the rub: Although the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts adds urgency to reform, they also stand in its way…

The Bush tax cuts have created a “baseline” problem. The two parties can’t agree on a plan because they can’t agree on a common equation for how much revenue counts as “revenue neutral.”

Republicans work from a baseline that includes a full extension of the Bush tax cuts. The Democrats’ baseline assumes the expiration of the tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000. The Congressional Budget Office uses yet another baseline, one that assumes that all of the Bush tax cuts will expire, because that’s what current law says will happen at the end of 2012. The difference in revenue between the Republican and the current-law scenario exceeds $4 trillion over 10 years.

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Lyrid Meteor Shower to peak this weekend

This weekend should offer the best view of the Lyrid meteor shower in years, with a dark moonless night during the peak of the annual sky show.

The Lyrids will put on their best showing overnight on Saturday and into the following morning, when the new moon will be essentially invisible from Earth…

“Typical hourly rates for the Lyrids can run between 10 and 20 meteors. However, rates as high as a hundred meteors per hour are not uncommon,” said Raminder Singh Samra, a resident astronomer at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, Canada.

“On rare occasions there may even be fireballs”—especially bright meteors—”streaking across the sky, too, making it quite a spectacular sight for observers…”

The Lyrids are thought to originate from comet Thatcher, whose 416-year orbit is nearly perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. That means the comet’s debris trail doesn’t experience many gravitational disturbances from planets, asteroids, and other comets.

Astronomers believe this stable stream of debris may be the reason the Lyrids have been a reliable sky show for centuries.

“Like clockwork every year in April, the Earth passes through the particle stream of this long-periodic comet, which last approached the sun in 1861,” Samra said.

RTFA for suggestions. Enjoy the outdoors at night – tonight.

Coppers release video of man in nightshirt shooting speed SUV

Santa Fe police looking for the person who shot up an unmanned speed-enforcement vehicle last week on Bishops Lodge Road now know what he looks like.

Video released Friday shows a gray-haired man wearing what appears to be a nightshirt pull up in an Audi SUV or wagon about 1:20 a.m., then walk up to the camera-equipped vehicle and fire at least five rounds from a handgun…

Police had reported last week that only three bullets hit the vehicle, piercing the windshield and damaging the roof, but that the camera equipment remained intact.

The video shows the shooter stood roughly 10 feet away from the vehicle when he aimed the handgun. The man at one point appears to yell something after firing the weapon.

The enforcement vehicles, which create images that are used to issue citations to registered owners of cars caught speeding, haven’t been uniformly popular…An obvious understatement?

The vehicle struck by bullets is listed as “unavailable” on the city’s website as repairs are made.

We never pretend that the City Different excludes dangerous “different” denizens. My only psychosocial comment about this dude – given his attire or lack thereof – is that he may have been sleep-driving and/or sleep-shooting.

Or maybe he just doesn’t check his mail for speeding tickets until the end of the day – sitting around watching Fox News and chugging down a dozen beers while growing his anger against official robot camera cars.

The Audi fits the neighborhood of Bishop’s Lodge Road. I’m not so certain about the handgun. Or shooting up city property.


Camilla – the rubber chicken – flies to edge of Earth’s atmosphere

A group of students from Bishop, California, have sent a rubber chicken to an altitude of 120,000ft as part of a project.

The journey, which involved attaching the fowl known as Camilla to a helium balloon, was undertaken to test the levels of radiation exposed to the chicken during a solar storm, last month.

Camilla is already well known among space enthusiasts as a mascot of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, and has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

On the outside of her knitted space suit, she wore a pair of badges to register radiation levels.

She flew twice – once on 3 March before the radiation storm and again on 10 March while the storm was in full swing – to give the students a basis for comparison.

The students now hope to repeat the mission with a species of microbes to find out if they can live at the edge of space.

Bravo, Camilla. Kudos to the kids in Bishop, California.

Smear campaign hits reporters who exposed Pentagon outsourcing agitprop in Afghanistan and Iraq

Two USA Today journalists investigating private security companies engaging in foreign propaganda wars on behalf of the Pentagon appear to have been subjected themselves to a dirty tricks campaign, the newspaper has revealed.

Reporter Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker became the subject of a sustained internet campaign to discredit their work just days after they began publishing the results of their investigation into a multi-million dollar Pentagon-funded propaganda mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the course of the smear campaign, fake websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook accounts were set up under the journalists’ names in which they were accused of being backed by the Taliban.

The source of the smear campaign has not been identified, and the Pentagon…told USA Today that it was unaware of any such activities, which it stressed it would find unacceptable. But the timing of the shady attempts to drag their names into the journalistic mud is certainly suggestive…

Both fake websites and the fake Twitter and Facebook feed have now been taken down. So too has a Wikipedia entry for Vanden Brook dated February 8 from a previously unknown Wikipedia user…

Locker also told the Washington Post that the smear campaign had been a “little bit of a distraction. But I think it’s good that we called attention to it.”

Both USA Today journalists said that if the intention was to intimidate them into silence, the mission had failed.

As it should. I have no idea who would think such craptastic attempts to intimidate reporters – here in the US or abroad – would have any effect other than pissing off the reporters and their publishers. Someone with a juvenile mentality. Someone who thinks deliberate lies and dirty tricks are appropriate tools to try to hide political reality.

Hmmm. Who thinks like that – who loves the Pentagon, lies, war, reactionary politics?

UK investment firm has an “oops!” email moment – tells their worldwide staff how to handle their departure

Workers at investment firm Aviva Investors got a shock on Friday when the company accidentally sent an email with leaving instructions intended for one departing employee to the entire worldwide staff of 1,300 people.

The firm’s human resources department realized its mistake and recalled the offending message 25 minutes later and soon afterwards sent out another email apologizing to staff for the error, company spokesman Paul Lockstone said…

“People were pretty quickly aware of the fact that this was a mistake … I don’t believe any of our staff would have seen it really as anything other than the mistake that it was.” As he stepped aside from the bodies hurtling from the roof.

The email was a standard message sent to people leaving the company, covering things such as handing back company equipment and confidentiality rules, and did not tell recipients they were fired, Lockstone said…

Lockstone said he did not know why the intended recipient of the email was leaving the company.

Probably running for safety.