Blog Ipsa Loquitur

If you thought the federal income tax code was convoluted, well, you’re definitely not wrong. In fact, convoluted might be understating the problem. But the states’ tax codes are pretty lousy with hilarity, too. This story from The Atlantic starts out with a few tax breaks that are worth checking out. Apparently, in Alabama, you can receive a $1,000 deduction for building an atomic fallout shelter. Seriously? Who does that incentivize? What kind of crazy survivalist is crazy enough to build a doomsday bunker, but not crazy enough to do it unless he/she gets a small tax break?

Please recall, Dear Reader, the Lee Storey hobby loss kerfuffle, in which I briefly mentioned deductions, why they exist, and how they work. For now, it’s enough to know that deductions lower the amount of income tax a person or business pays, which is handy and desirable, and folks do all sorts of things to get deductions.

Florida apparently offers a deduction for agricultural land users, which shouldn’t really be surprising. Farm subsidies take many forms, and a tax break is just as good as any other, right? Well, sometimes. In this case, whether it’s a subsidy or a tax break is kind of moot. If you run a farm, you get a nice tax break to help out, because in America, we take care of farmers. Like, a lot. Lots of other places do, too.

Now, the silly title for this blog post comes from how you get this deduction. You can apparently designate your land as “agricultural use” by simply letting a cow graze on it. Yep. That’s it. Rent a cow, let it nibble on your lawn, and poof. Instant farmland with instant tax break. And it’s not just retirees from the Northeast that are raking in the savings:

Other beneficiaries of the law have included Walt Disney World ($1.5 million in savings), as well as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson ($43,000 in savings), who keeps about six cows on 55 acres of land near the Indian River, courtesy of a cattle ranching operation that leases the property for free. Like Nelson, some developers simply offer their land to ranchers for no charge. Others, as the Herald noted, actually pay the ranchers – hence the loophole’s nickname, “rent-a-cow.”

The total cost of these abuses isn’t clear, but there are hints that it may be significant. According to a 2006 Associated Press article, the law costs Florida $950 million a year total. Some of the breaks go to legitimate commercial farms. But according to the Herald’s 2005 investigation, more than two-thirds of the loophole’s top 60 beneficiaries in South Florida weren’t farmers.

The law actually does stipulate that “property owners are required to use their land for ‘bona fide’ agricultural purposes” – if your local court has ruled that renting a cow for a single day is a bona fide agricultural purpose, then get yourself down to your local cattle renting emporium. Your local judge just did you a favor by torturing the meaning of the term that means “good faith” and replacing it with “good deal.” Though to be fair, not all judges can be sophisticated jurists like yours truly, the owner of numerous domain names with legal puns in them, like http://lawyersaur.us and http://blog.ipsaloquitur.org. Pity, that.

Published on under The News

Mother Jones says “Study: All-White Juries More Likely To Convict Black Defendants” – citing researchers from Duke University:

The bad news is that, according to the study, which looked at 700 cases between 2000 and 2010, all-white juries are significantly more likely to convict black defendants than white ones. The good news is that a single black juror can alter that dynamic.

In cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81 percent of the time, and whites were convicted 66 percent of the time. The estimated difference in conviction rates rises to 16 percent when the authors controlled for the age and gender of the jury and the year and county in which the trial took place. When the jury pool included at least one black person, the conviction rates were nearly identical: 71 percent for black defendants, 73 percent for whites.

Remember, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but that is some pretty awful correlation. Read the full study at Duke’s web site.

Published on under The News

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge, on the just-filed ebook price-fixing case against Apple and the publishers:

The government alleges that the publishing industry openly colluded to raise ebook prices and end Amazon’s dominance, and that Apple was a willing participant in the scheme. What’s more, the alleged conspiracy sounds like it was actually quite a conspiracy, with secret CEO meetings in private New York dining rooms and promises made to bosses up and down the chain. It’s all quite juicy, so let’s dig in.

Although Apple is listed as the first defendant, the bulk of the case is really about the publishers involved: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster. According to the government, these publishers greatly feared Amazon’s $9.99 Kindle book prices, which they called “wretched,” and worked for years on a scheme to raise prices and limit competition. They also feared that consumers would get used to paying $9.99 for bestsellers and ultimately decrease publishing profits.

And this breakdown goes on. As always, Patel has the most concise and cogent summary of the key legal issues at play. It really sounds like slimy business. The publishers felt like Amazon had too much leverage in the retail book market, and as such, they agreed to set prices with the new kid in the ebook market (Apple). Apple, for its part, was eager to get a foothold in a growing market, and was happy to not only acquiesce, but actively secure publishers for the price-fixing cartel.

Note that three of the seven publishers have already settled, and the lawsuit was only filed yesterday. So there are at least a few folks who’re pretty sure the complaint is accurate.

Read the excellent summary at The Verge.

Published on under The Digital Age

Bump is a smartphone app that transfers a user’s contact information from one phone to another by fist-bumping. Over the years, Bump has added things like photo sharing to their program, and today they’ve let me do something I’ve always wanted.

Now I can fist-bump my computer to upload photos. I’m not even going to use it, I just love how inventive it is.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

Once in a generation, a visionary creates something truly revolutionary. A product that upends whole sectors of the population. A service that brings grown men to gnash their teeth and women wail in sorrow, all because they had not thought of it first.

Or, sometimes, someone makes a web site with hilariously oversized text, and sticks a WHOIS search form at the bottom. This person also might call it “The Facebook of Websites.” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you WhoDat.biz – the world’s first way to look up WHOIS data.

This is apparently the first product from Kanye West’s fabulous new design startup, DONDA. You might recall that time a couple months ago when Kanye went on a two hour non-stop Tweeting binge. Ideally, this isn’t what he was so excited about.

UPDATE: It’s a faaaaaaaake. Well played, clerks. Well played.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

You’ve all heard of Facebook, where everyone knows lots about you, regardless of whether you posted it or not.

You’ve probably heard of Twitter, where you connect with people with short updates and grow your network of online friends.

You might have heard about Path, where you can share your thoughts, places, photos and even your musical tastes with a close number of friends.

You probably haven’t heard about Pair – that’s okay, it’s new – where you can connect with your loved one (yep, just one) when you’re apart.

We think we’ve come up with a social networking platform that speaks to you – and only you – personally. It’s called Solo.

The problem with today’s social networks is that they spread your focus away from the most important person in your life: you. That’s a problem. You end up being connected with everyone else and you stop being connected with yourself. And there’s no way you can be truly connected to others without being connected to yourself first, right?

Read the rest of Introducing Solo: The Social Network That’s Just For You at Vardy.me

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant