Explaining Southern California's economy

Obama's 2013 budget: The part rich people should read

Gulfstream V

Phil Vabre/Wikimedia Commons

Sorry, wealthy corporate folk. President Obama wants to take away your precious private jet depreciation schedule.

President Obama released his 2013 budget today. Conveniently, the U.S. Treasury emailed me a summary of the so-called "Green Book," its explanation of the President's recommendations. It's fairly dense. But if you're rich, this is the part you'll want to study, because it's all about how the wealthy in America are taxed, right down to their private jets and interest on hedge-fund earnings (I've edited for length):

Allow the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts to expire (including the low tax rate on dividends) for households making more than $250,000 per year and restore the estate tax to 2009 levels....Sustaining these unaffordable high-income tax cuts would require either borrowing more, increasing taxes on the middle-class, or deep cuts in other parts of the Budget that help seniors, the middle-class, and the most vulnerable.  The President’s Budget would instead reflect shared sacrifice by allowing income tax rates that exclusively affect upper-income households to return to the levels they were at throughout most of the 1990s...

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Warren Buffett on investing: It's just so simple!

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Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Time Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett attends the Fortune Most Powerful Women summit at Mandarin Oriental Hotel on October 5, 2010 in Washington, DC.

Thanks to Henry Blodget at Business Insider for directing to this Fortune except from Warren Buffett's annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. In it, Warren Buffett lays out the commonsense case for avoiding investments in currency (for example, government debt like U.S. Treasuries) and gold (driven by fear) and sticking with stocks. Here's a taste:

My own preference -- and you knew this was coming -- is our third category: investment in productive assets, whether businesses, farms, or real estate. Ideally, these assets should have the ability in inflationary times to deliver output that will retain its purchasing-power value while requiring a minimum of new capital investment. Farms, real estate, and many businesses such as Coca-Cola (KO), IBM (IBM), and our own See's Candy meet that double-barreled test. Certain other companies -- think of our regulated utilities, for example -- fail it because inflation places heavy capital requirements on them. To earn more, their owners must invest more. Even so, these investments will remain superior to nonproductive or currency-based assets.

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Greek debt crisis: Is this a financial coup d'etat?

The Parliamentary Headquarters Of Major Eurozone Nations

Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

ATHENS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 03: A general view of the building of the Greek Parliament on the Syntagma (Constitution) Square is pictured on November 03, 2011 in Athens, Greece.

I've been steering clear of the euro crisis for the past month or so, but given the latest frenzied spate of negotiations about how to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt, I figured it was time to jump back in. The latest news is pretty straightforward: over the weekend, the Greek parliament voted to accept a new set of austerity measures, in exchange for a new round of bailout money — $171 billion, roughly.

This hasn't gone down well with the population, according the the New York Times:

[C]haos on the streets of Athens, where more than 80,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday, and in other cities across Greece reflected a growing dread — certainly among Greeks, but also among economists and perhaps even European officials — that the sharp belt-tightening and the bailout money it brings will still not be enough to keep the country from going over a precipice.

Angry protesters in the capital threw rocks at the police, who fired back with tear gas. After nightfall, demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, setting fire to more than 40 buildings, including a historic theater in downtown Athens, the worst damage in the city since May 2010, when three people were killed when protesters firebombed a bank. There were clashes in Salonika in the north, Patra in the west, Volos in central Greece, and on the islands of Crete and Corfu.

Greece and its foreign lenders are locked in a dangerous brinkmanship over the future of the nation and the euro. Until recently, a Greek default and exit from the euro zone was seen as unthinkable. [my emphasis] Now, though experts say that the European Union is not prepared for a default and does not want one, the dynamic has shifted from trying to save Greece to trying to contain the damage if it turns out to be unsalvageable.

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Why not just start newspapers from scratch?

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AP Photo/Sang Tan

A man views a news stand displaying national newspapers, some carrying the story on WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. State Department documents, at a newsagent in central London, Monday, Nov. 29, 2010.

It's becoming abundantly apparent that even a robust online presence can't rescue newspapers as we know them. The problem is simple: online revenue, while growing, can't replace the print losses. This has seriously undermined the profits margins of big-city dailies, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post. Small-market dailies are having an easier time of it, but that's because they have lower costs to support and don't need to become online powerhouses.

This is from the Wrap:

Web traffic for newspapers keeps growing, but not fast enough for Washington Post staffers, who on Wednesday learned there would be yet another round of voluntary buyouts at the paper. 

The buyouts - up to 48 news staffers at the Post, according to the paper's ombudsman - are the latest in a new round of cuts at major newspapers as online traffic grows and overall unemployment numbers fall nationwide.

The average number of daily visitors to Washington Post's site jumped by more than 3 million, or nearly 15 percent, during the last quarter of 2011, according to a study released last week by the Newspaper Association of America.

The number of unique visitors over that period increased nearly 6 percent, while the total minutes visitors spent on the site rose by 14 percent.

But all those eyeballs are not translating into real money, or at least not at enough of a clip to cushion circulation losses and declining print advertising revenue. 

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You call that a mortgage settlement?

Mortgage settlement

Reuters/Gary Cameron

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announce that the government and 49 state attorneys general have reached a $25 billion settlement agreement with the five largest mortgage lenders to redress foreclosure abuses, in Washington, February 9, 2012.

UPDATE: California Attorney General Kamala Harris wasted no time in leaping ahead to a provision of the deal that could up the settlement to $45 billion, with California homeowners getting $18 billion. The U.S. Department of Justice says $7 billion, and adds that "[s]ervicers that miss settlement targets and deadlines will be required to pay substantial additional cash amounts." Maybe she doesn't like the size of the stated number all that much, either?

We have a mortgage settlement at last between the big banks and the states. California and New York, the two staunchest holdouts, have signed on. But then there's the actual number: $25 billion (initially reported as $26 billion). It just isn't that much. And although the news of the settlement has been greeting positively, for the most part, it's far from clear that it will ultimately turn the housing market around.

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