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Saturday, October 31, 2009

RIP Norton Buffalo

I posted about the great harmonica player and singer Norton Buffalo earlier this week and his battle with cancer. Well, its over now and we have lost another great harp player. It was quick and brutal - diagnosed on September 2 and gone on October 30.

So many will mourn him; so many will miss him.

Good Bye, Norton.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Income inequality - is it real?

It is one of those things that "everybody knows." In the United States, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The middle class is getting squeezed and we are becoming a society that includes a small, wealthy elite class and a mass of struggling humanity. This "narrative" underlies much of our policy and legislation (and our tax system). Productivity in the U.S. economy has been improving (on average) at a decent clip, but wages are stagnant - and this is what is causing inequality to increase. I tended to believe it.

In my town, Evanston, Illinois, there is a university - Northwestern. One of the grizzled old tenured professors at that university is Robert Gordon, an economist with a Harvard/MIT pedigree. He is a middle-of-the-road guy (not a raging University of Chicago "free marketeer"). He wrote the "Macroeconomics" textbook that is used by college students around the nation. He is mainstream, baby.

So apparently Professor Gordon has been looking into productivity and income inequality. His results were summarized in a recent Forbes Magazine article. Cutting to the chase, Prof. Gordon's research allegedly demonstrates that most of the difference between productivitiy growth and income growth for the middle class can be explained by adjusting for government sector employment (17% of the workforce!!) that has zero increase in productivity (since it is an activity that generates no profit), smaller household sizes (leading to more households but not necessarily lower income growth per individual) and differing rates of inflation by region and by income level. So the great increase in income inequality isn't very great at all, apparently. Huh.

BUT Gordon does confirm that the top 1% of all earners in the U.S. are pulling away from the other 99%. So THOSE are the culprits!! Off with their heads!!!

To be a "top 1% culprit," you would need adjusted gross income of $410,096 in 2007. The top 1% earned about 22.8% of adjusted gross income in 2007 (according to the IRS) and paid 40.4% of all income taxes in that year. So it looks like these wealthy folks are carrying a decent share of the tax burden, right? And their tax rate is the highest of all income brackets - over 22% after all deductions and other hoo-ha that wealthy folks do. Oh wait - back in 1980, the top 1% culprits had effective tax rates of 34.5% So it has been good to be wealthy, right? Except that these numbers don't reflect state income taxes, property taxes, etc. But, hey, those are details - the tax rates have been cut back in a serious way since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office. Remember those fabulous Carter years? Good times, man.

So how much more can we tax these top 1% culprits? Should we take 40%? 80%? 99.99%? And what is the impact on revenues if we put the screws to the wealthy in a serious way? Will our national budget be in better shape? Will we improve as a society?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Keep Norton Buffalo in your Thoughts

Norton Buffalo is one of the best harmonica players of my generation. He is an old Oakland CA boy, came into his musical prime in the 1970's and has recorded on his own and with many others (Steve Miller Band is his regular gig, and he has played with Bonnie Raitt and the Doobie Brothers). He is a major studio harmonica player and is on many movie soundtracks and commercials. Remember the awesome harmonica solo on Bonnie Raitt's version of "Runaway?" That is Norton Buffalo (I think he used 4-5 different harps on the tune, switching between them with lightning speed).

Norton was on the road with the Steve Miller Band all summer and felt crappy much of the time. His doctors thought he had pneumonia but they were wrong - he has lung cancer, Stage 4 Adenocarcinoma of the lower right lobe - and it has spread to his brain. He received his diagnosis in September and is going through the extreme challenge of trying to beat the disease. Please keep him in your thoughts. You can drop him a card, too - the address is:

Norton Buffalo & Lisa Flores
5905 D Clark Road
Paradise, CA 95969

There is going to be a benefit/fund raiser for Norton to cover medical expenses - I guess his health insurance situation is inadequate. If you can attend, do it. If you can't attend, consider buying a ticket anyway. Here is the info on the benefit:

Norton Buffalo Benefit //Tell the folks you know

Tickets for the first BENEFIT FOR NORTON BUFFALO at The Paradise Performing Arts Center ARE NOW AVAILABLE!!! CARLOS REYES and FRIENDS, TOM RIGNEY and FLAMBEAU, and ROY ROGERS & THE DELTA RHYTHM KINGS have agreed to play at Norton's request.

The benefit will be held Sunday evening November 22nd. Call Bill Anderson toll free 1-877-397-3363 (10am-4:30pm & 6pm-9pm) to order your tickets with a credit card, or you can call to reserve your tickets and send a check payable to PPAC to Bill Anderson, 6848U Skyway, Paradise, CA 95969. Tickets for Norton's benefit will be $40 General Admission. I will either mail the tickets to you or hold them for you at Will Call. Doors will open at 5:30pm, show starts at 6:30pm.

Looking forward to seeing all of Norton's friends at the show! For those who cannot attend but still want to support the benefit, donations may be sent to LISA FLORES, 5905D Clark Road, Paradise, CA 95969.

Tickets will also be available at Diamond W Western Wear in Chico, Country Touch, and Paradise Coin in Paradise, and at The Performing Arts Center starting next week. PPAC's box office is open 11am-3pm Monday-Friday.

Bill & Penny Anderson
6848U Skyway
Paradise, CA 95969

Norton is not yet 60 years old.

It seems especially horrible that a harmonica player should be afflicted with a lung disease - to play harmonica, one must breathe very deeply.

Get Well, Norton........

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Loss

I haven't been writing many entries for this blog lately. There have been many other things consuming my time, and a blog is a self-indulgent exercise - as bad as Facebook and Twitter. Who cares what I think and what happens in my life? Very few people outside of my family.

But I thought I would indulge myself today.

About a year or so ago, my youngest daughter (now 13) managed to beg and wheedle her old man into letting her adopt a kitten, a stray that was abandoned at the front door of the local animal hospital. The kitten grew to be a spirited tomcat, named Smitty (pictured above). He had all of the characteristics that make cats admired and reviled - independent, graceful, predatory, curious, and vocal. Smitty noticed the great outdoors when he was a small kitten - he was determined to break free of the "big house." He would hide around the doors and bolt whenever someone came in or went out. We tried to keep him indoors, but he simply refused to stay. So we put an identity microchip into the scruff of his neck, got him a collar with a bell and let him be an outdoor cat. He was much happier, and would occassionally reward us by bringing home a dead mouse.

On Saturday at 7:30 AM, Smitty was yowling and the dogs were barking. All of them wanted out, so I opened the door to the back yard and let them go. Then I made coffee and turned my attention to the newspapers.

On Saturday at about 10:45 AM, our doorbell rang. A man was at the door, holding Smitty. The cat had ventured onto the busy street in front of our house and was hit by a car. We thought that Smitty shied away from the street - he had never been seen near traffic before. I knew immediately that he was gone, but I rushed him to the vet anyway. I didn't want my girls to see the him. So Smitty was crushed; I don't think he had much time to suffer. It was sad and weird to carry his body - limp and bleeding from the mouth. Smitty was all muscle and energy - where did it go?

My 13-year old daughter cried and cried. My 17-year old daughter wept as well, even though she didn't have much to do with Smitty. My wife was very sad also. And I, who don't really like cats that much and never wanted this cat, felt the loss as well. He was the first living thing I saw when I woke in the morning (I am the first one out of bed). He was the only other male in the house besides me. Smitty was a proud, aggressive tomcat.

Good-bye Smitty. I hope to see you on the other side (if there is an "other side".