Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Taxing the rich

I was wondering why people talk about taxing the rich but we never end up taxing the very rich heavily at all. Taxing the rich ends up, at best, meaning taxing the upper middle class. It finally occurred to me, it is vitually impossible to finance any government activity by taxing the very rich. And this is very easy to demonstrate.

Take the very rich to be the Bill Gates, George Soros, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Tiger Woods class of rich people.

-Recognize that the government needs real resources to build aircraft carriers, provide food or housing for the poor, improve homeland security or whatever it wants to do.

-To provide those real resources, taxes must reduce someone's consumption of real resources. Someone's behavior has to change or there are no real resources taken in taxes for the government to use.

-The very rich don't need to change their behavior in response to any reasonable taxes. Bill Gates does not say, "Gee, that tax bill was high this year, I won't do fiber optic to every room in the house, I'll just use wireless in the west wing". It doesn't happen. Teresa Kerry does not say, "Wow, that was quite a tax bite, I'll buy off the rack this year instead having designers come in." Doesn't happen. Even if they shift their assets in response to taxes, they won't change their own consumption. They have sufficient resources they can afford to ignore any reasonable taxes.

-The very rich can't be taxed at an unreasonably high level because they have the political resources to defend themselves. If you try to take 7 or 8 billion from Bill Gates he's going to notice, spend a couple million or even a couple of hundred million, and he is going to win. Though even 7 or 8 billion wouldn't affect his actual consumption.

-So, taxing the very rich only changes consumption or (actually impacts) those less rich folks who depend on how the very rich allocate their assets to avoid or to pay taxes. These folks may be anywhere in the income distribution.

So, forget trying to finance the government on the backs of the very rich.

Now consider:
-who has sufficient resources to finance significant government activities
-who's consumption is sensitive enough to income that it can be reduced by taxes
-who doesn't have unlimited ability to buy political influence to fight unreasonable taxes
That's right, the upper middle class and the middle class.

-People who own prosperous autoshops, boutiques, hair salons
-Executives at corporations (excluding the highest paid ones who are super rich)
-Real estate investors and successful agents
-Highly paid skilled workers

These upper middle class people are the people who should be pictured when someone talks about taxing the rich, not the super rich. The famous star entrepreneurs, athletes, heiresses are not affected in the least by higher taxes.

People in the super rich class who advocate higher tax policies are routinely given credit for opposing "their own" interests. This is false credit. When George Soros advocates higher taxes, he is opposing the interests of people much poorer than himself. His consumption will not be reduced at all by any tax increase advocated by him or the organizations he funds.

Think of the right rich people when you are thinking of taxing the "rich".

Friday, November 12, 2004

Sabrina and Dave at the Wedding Dinner Posted by Hello

View South from upper town of Taormina Posted by Hello

Sabrina and Dede at Chiara Del Luna Posted by Hello

Mount Etna from the Teatro Greco in Taormina Posted by Hello


The Eurostar train from Naples to Sicily was pretty fast and comfortable. It took about 5 hours to get us down to the Ferry terminal on the mainland for a 40 minute ferry ride to Sicily. The Eurostar as more expensive and no faster than the IC train, but the timing was more convenient. I think on the IC train, the train itself goes onto the ferry and you just stay in the train. That would have been interesting, but the Eurostar worked fine. The ferry took us to the a ferry terminal in Messina that adjoined the main station where it was easy to catch our train to Taormina. We passed the train station for Ali Terme' where my friends' pre-wedding dinner would be the next day and where his wedding would be the final day.

Our hotel, Hotel Villa Caterina, was a short cab ride from the train station. The Hotel says 2 Kilometers but the cab ride seemed a little longer. In any case, it is too far to walk comfortably and about a 10 Euro cab ride from the train station. The room was roomy enough and comfortable. We never got the air conditioning working, but since we were mostly there in the evenings we were able to keep the room cool enough by opening the windows. We didn't have any mosquito problems there.

On the one hand, the hotel is on the Bay of Mazzaro, so it is convenient to the beach. On the other hand, it is less convenient to the rest of the town. The rest of the town is up on the cliffside overlooking the bay. The day is reached most conveniently by an arial tramway about 100 meters from the hotel. We used that tram a lot and found it convenient for reaching the main part of the town. Taormina is a wonderful town with beautiful views overlooking the bay. The main town area is extremely picturesque with churches and squares crowded with people shopping and strolling. We strolled around the town that night and had our dinner in the main part of town.

Our main task was to figure out how to get to the pre-wedding lunch and the church in Ali Terme. The desk clerk spoke excellent english and wanted to be helpful but she didn't have a lot resources like train schedules, maps, etc. It was a real contrast to the Hotel Desiree where they made the effort to have everything at their fingertips. There was no direct dial out of the hotel and the evening operator didn't speak English, so it was very hard to make a call out of the hotel. My English speaking friend also had trouble calling into our room from outside. On the plus side, the Hotel promptly delivered an e-mail to our room that was sent to the hotel's e-mail address. During daytime hours, I went to the front desk to get help with outgoing calls and the desk clerk was helpful in getting us connected. I used my cell phone in the evening. Fortunately, my friend was able to get through to us on our cell phone and he was good enough to set us up with rides to the lunch and the wedding with people staying in Taormina, so the problem of getting there by train was obviated. Since we were following someone who knew the way to lunch, the direction were taken care of as well.

We met the dinner party in the main part of Ali Terme'. Ali Terme' is a near suburb of Messina. It struck me has having a "Beach Town" kind of ambiance. I was surprised how large and spread out urban Messinal was. Suburbs stretch out unbroken along the coast quite a ways toward Taormina. Lunch was at Chiara al Luna, a Restaurant above Ali Terme'. The seafood was a highlight in a wonderful multicourse feast. The view out the picture windows of Chiara al Luna was also a highlight! We only needed to have a little Gelati later in the evening to cover our "dinner" we were so full from lunch.

We didn't plan to follow anyone to the church, so we tried for directions at the hotel desk again. Again, the clerk wanted to be helpful but she couldn't locate the specific address and suggested a way that turned out to be the slower way (though perhaps a bit easier than the toll rode for unfamiliar drivers). Our ride accused me of trying to save on tolls when we followed her directions and it turned out much slower than the way we had taken the day before.

The wedding was in a beautiful little chapel in a school that is a bit hard to find. We had to ask a couple of people on the street to finally zoom into it. The ceremony and mass was lovely. The choir had beautiful voices. Truly a joyful event for everyone present.

The wedding dinner was back in Taormina at the Hotel Diodoro. This is an old hotel with a spectactular view from the terrace where we gathered between the wedding and the dinner. We were amazed to see red lines of lava on Mount Etna. I found this view of red glowing lava to be spectacular. Dinner was another amazing meal. Apparently in Italy they dispense with all the set pieces we insist on at American weddings (dancing in various pairings, bouquet tossing, etc.) and focus on the important activity eating! This was another spectacular meal. We were eating and drinking late into the night. We actually had to leave before the eating was over in order to leave before Michele fell asleep in her plate and before the tram we rely on closed at 1 AM. It was a wonderful wedding and celebration and truly a joy for us to be there to celebrate the day.

With all the wedding activities we only had time to vaguely plan our way to Palermo. We had spent enough time to figure out that flying out of Palermo was a big mistake. Sicily has two airports. Palermo and Catania. Catania is less than an hour away from Taormina, Palermo is about 5 hours! If your going to Taormina or Messina, use Catania. But we had to get to Palermo. Without a train schedule in site, we left for the train station at a time we thought was plenty early. Wrong. We missed the train we would have needed to catch our flight by about 10 minutes!!!! This is when we really appreciated the way that Hotel Desiree in Sorrento had all the train schedules on hand. We had to take a cab to Messina (an expensive proposition). We made the Messina to Palermo leg of our train trip.

This trip just made us want to spend more time in Sicily and actually see Palermo and environs. From the train, Cefalu with its Duomo perched between a cliff and the sea looked particularly inviting. Our task was to get to the airport in time to make our plane. We had to change trains in Palermo but we managed to figure out which train headed to the airport. We made our plane for Rome. Once back in Rome we were just staying overnight near the airport and then heading for home.

When we arrived home, we found things much better than we left them. The house was squeaky clean, flowers were planted along the walkway, the children were happy. We were amazed. Things at home went downhill to their normal equilibrium once my Mom left.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What is 1928?

The last time the Republicans won a presidential election without a George Bush and without Richard Nixon on the ticket.

Republicans won in '52 Nixon VP, '56 Nixon VP, '68 Nixon, '72 Nixon, '80 George Bush VP, '84 George Bush VP, '88 George Bush 41, 2000 W, 2004 W

Odd little tidbit.

View from Villa Rufolo in Ravello Posted by Hello

Preserved Wall Paintings at Herculaneum Posted by Hello

View of Sorrento near Hotel Desiree Posted by Hello

Sorrento, Pompeii, Amalfi

The trip to Rome to Naples was fast and comfortable on a Eurostar train. We left one of our big bags at the Rome airport and we were glad of it. We had one big bag and one small backpack and that was enough to be lugging through the train stations. At the train station in Naples we were greeted by lots of people offering to take us to Sorrento or Pompeii or to carry our luggage. We were Savvy enough to wave them off knowing it would end up costing a lot more than the train and it would be hard to get our bags back without surrendering money. We found the Circumvesuviana train and bought our tickets to Sorrento. This is a local transit style train that goes around Vesuvius to Sorrento. Because the train has a lot of stops it took about 90 minutes to get to Sorrento.

While the train itself is rundown and not very attractive, the scenery is quite spectactular for some parts of the trip. You have Mount Vesuvius on one side and the Bay of Naples on the other side. On other parts of the trip you mainly see rundown suburbs of Naples. We noted the stops for Pompeii and Herculaneum because those were on our plan for our stay in Sorrento.

At Sorrento we needed to get tickets for the bus to our hotel, Hotel Desiree. The ticket sellers were claiming to be out of bus tickets (I think the cab drivers might have been outbidding the bus company). I managed to persuade one of the Tobacco shops to sell us bus tickets. We had a long wait for the bus, but it finally left and dropped us off close to Hotel Desiree.

The Hotel was in a beautiful location above the city and above the bay of naples. The view around the hotel was spectacular either at night with the lights from the cities or by day with the sparkling blue water. The room was comfortable and the hotel staff was very helpful. Like all our hotels this was much more "Budget Travel" than "Conde Nast" but this was our favorite hotel of the trip. We walked down to town for dinner and back to the hotel that evening. It was a fairly long but reasonable walk.

We decided to do Herculaneum and Pompeii the next morning. We started to walk out of the hotel and the clerk literally ran after us to make sure we got some advice on our travels. He gave us maps of Pompeii and strongly recommended we only plan on seeing either Herculaneum or Pompeii in one day because Pompeii alone we should allow 5 hours. Probably good advice, but we wanted see both, so we went ahead with our plan armed with his maps and advice about Pompeii.

Both sites are spectactular. Herculaneum is wonderfully compact and has smaller crowds and some amazingly well preserved buildings. Mosaics on the floor of the baths and some houses, even original woodwork on some of the shops. Herculaneum really gives you a compact and digestable Roman city without a lot of crowds and hassles.

Pompeii is huge! Much bigger than I expected. It was clearly a pretty big Roman town and you really get the feeling of walking through a city because you are walking on Roman roads through blocks and blocks of ruined buildings. A lot of interesting buildings, too many to see in the time we allotted but the guidebook they gave us at the ruins helped pick out the high points. Actually, they didn't give us the guidebook, it was sitting out and I found it after poking around the ticket office area in both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Less enterprising tourists were wandering around without guidebook or map. The guidebook suggests two different two hour tours depdening on which entrance you come in. I misread the guidebook and thought this was one two hour tour. By the time I was halfway to the Amphitheatre, I realized this could not be a two hour tour because it took me 30 minutes just to walk to the amphitheater from another site. Michele wisely decided to rest while I ran off to see Roman amphitheatre number 4 or 5 for this trip (there would be one more in Sicily, but it was a greek amphitheatre).
We returned to our Sorrento to have dinner, so it wasn't quite archeological site 1 for lunch, archeological site 2 for dinner).

We had a good Italian meal at the adjoining restaurant to the hotel, but the service was horribly slow. I often would order an antipasto to share, a primi plata to share, and two plata secondi's. This seemed to either annoy waiters who would serve us slowly or signaled to waiters we wanted very leisurly service. In this case, the service was beyond slow to really being offensive. Even after asking for the check, he took a very long time to bring it. Michele actually made a paramid out of the glasswear we were so annoyed waiting. Another American couple who was enjoying very slow service across the room enjoyed our antics. We got our check before they did, perhaps because we were more obnoxious.

The next day we were off to Amalfi. The bus ride to Amalfi was spectacular but a bit nerve racking. The highway is about 1.5 lanes, so passing cars going the opposite direction is an exercise in patience and driving skill. Especially for a bus driver. I was glad we weren't driving even our little Smart car, let alone a full sized vehicle. We drove through Positano, but we had to choose between going to Amalfi and Ravello or staying and walking around Positano (we got a late start that day). We chose to see Ravello which had spectactular views. We could get a little sense of Positano on our drive through, but that is a go back to really get much feel for it.

Amalfi coast and Sorrento are high on our go back list and the area that we wished we could have stayed longer. This is a spectacularly beautiful area and we didn't even scratch the surface. We didn't go to Capri, or any of the islands, we only drove through Positano, we spent no time in Naples. So, that is all left for another trip. Maybe the one where we go to Pisa and the Cinque Terra or the one where we go to Venice.

We had planned to go to Salerno to catch a ferry for Sicily. But in talking with the hotel desk clerk he pointed out that a bus to Salerno would take three hours. We would have to leave early to catch a ferry that wouldn't get us to Sicily until late. He suggested taking the Circumvesuviano back to Naples and getting the train to Sicily (via a short ferry ride from Reggio di Calabria. He thought this would be faster than going to Salerno and catching the same train later in the journey. He had all the schedules there which made a huge difference in figuring out what to do. We went back to Naples. We passed through Salerno about three hours after we left Sorrento, so the apparent back tracking didn't cost us anything.

Next installment will be on our stay in Sicily.

World phone

If you are considering renting a phone for international use try www.mobal.com.

You can buy a phone that works all over the world with no monthly fees from them for $49.00 including delivery. By minute rates are fairly high, but if you only plan to use it only occassionally it is a good deal. The only thing free is incoming SMS messages.

We used this in Italy. They delivered it promptly and it worked in all the areas in Italy we were and in Switzerland. It was great to have the phone as a fall back where people could reach us even with the high per minute rates.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Duomo at Spoleto. The inside isn't as impressive as the square and the outside. Posted by Hello

Michele at Orvieto. Posted by Hello

Ralph at Assissi Posted by Hello

Umbria: Hill Town for Lunch, Hill Town for Dinner

This is day 4 through 7 of our trip to Italy.

After trying to see as much of Rome as possible in two days, you would think we would rest in the quieter environs of Umbria. Wrong. We had a car, we got bored staying in one place real quick. We were staying in Deruta, which is a wonderful place to buy pottery but not a hotbead of tourism or night life. So we embarked on our rampage through Umbria. We found we could drive to one hill town in the morning, eat lunch there and while everything is shut down for Siesta, we headed for another hill town where we would sightsee until the restaurants opened for dinner (the magic 7:00 hour that we found ourselves waiting for wherever we were).

So, we saw Todi (Dinner, the day we drove in from Rome), Assissi (Lunch), Perugia (Dinner), Orvieto (Lunch), Spoleto (Dinner) and in between we managed to see Deruta which is a cute little hill town although the part we stayed in was the flat part at the base of the hill. By seeing so many Unbrian hill towns we came to be something of hill town connoisseurs. We could appreciate the medieval layout and atmosphere of Todi and compare it to the combination of Roman, Medieval, and baroque sites in Spoleto.

Assissi has the wonderful churches associated with Saint Francis and the Franciscans. Assissi has a beautiful medieval layout and views to the agricultural plains layed out below the hill town. It competes with Todi to be the architypical Umbrian hill town. Assissi is a great place to buy religious oriented souvenirs as well.

Perugia seems a little more alive and less of a preserved tourist attraction than the other hill towns. Perhaps because of the University and the fact that it serves as more of a regional hub than the other towns. A highlight in Perugia was the Collegio del Cambio (Exchange Guild) decorated with wonderful frescoes by Perugino. The other unique thing about Perugia is that it has a laundromat! Laundromats seem to be very hard to come by in Italy. We asked all over Deruta, Orvieto, and Spoleto and couldn't get anyone to point us to a laundromat. Part of it may have been our inability to convey what we were looking for. However, it seems that while there are plenty of dry cleaners around, laundromats are rare. We found from our Lonely Planet guide book that Perugia had a laundromat so we were rushed back there to get to the laundromat before it closed. Running through a medieval town at night stopping at an internet cafe to ask where a laundromat is somehow was a strange highlight of our trip.

Orvieto has a unique Duomo with black and white striped exterior and an impressive interior. Orvieto is also famous for its white wine. The sample we enjoyed was a somewhat sweet but not too fruity white wine with a very clean after-taste. A very enjoyable wine.

In Spoleto we enjoyed the Roman museum and amphitheater as well as the impressive bridge that was built from a Roman aquaduct. We also unexpectedly met a friend from the U.S. who was also traveling on vacation.

In Deruta, we stayed at the Assi Di Coppa which is an affordable, comfortable and friendly family run hotel. Most people staying there are Italians, so the staff isn't that strong on English but we were able to convey our needs. We visited with our friend Dave who joined a wonderful family run ceramics store at Via Tiberina Sud 297, Sebastiono Camillen Maioliche d'Arte. Deruta is famous for ceramics and Dave's wife's family has offered a great selection of Deruta's ceramics for a number of years.

After our romp through the Umbrian towns and our visit with Dave, we headed back for the Rome airport to drop off our car and catch a train to Naples (via central Rome). From Naples we would take the Circa Vesuviana local train to Sorrento our next stop.