Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tax Breaks for Rich Kids’ Schools

Someone in the State Legislature has finally been fast enough on the up-take to recognize that the scheme that allows tax credits for donations to their kids’ schools benefits the rich more than the poor.

It’s a simple matter, really. Wealthy parents are more likely to have the discretionary cash to donate than are the poor. The result is that school districts with poorer populations receive less money with which to fund enrichment ac
tivities for their kids.

This is pointed out in a story in today’s Arizona Daily Star. There’s a little irony here. The story quotes Republican Rep. Mark Anderson, who was one of the original sponsors of the Arizona Tax Credit Program, the 1998 law that lets individuals donate up to $200 to public schools for clubs or class activities and get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit.

It’s taken Anderson eight years to recognize that the tax-credit deal he co-sponsored is inequitable, which may not be fast after all. Maybe only half fast. Here’s a quote from the Star:

"The one flaw … is that schools that are generally wealthier demographically have an easier time raising money from the parents who live there, because they can afford the $200," Anderson said.

“Differences in donations between districts and individual schools can be dramatic, he said. For example, Franklin West Elementary School in Mesa took in $5,817 in tax credits in 2005, while Red Mountain Ranch Elementary got $34,758.

Poorer families can't afford to give to their schools, Anderson said, even if they know they will get it back later.

Anderson wants to establish a corporate tax credit to fund a program that would make up the short fall. This would mean less money in the general fund. (As does the existing tax credit.)

Why, in the past nine years, hasn’t some Democratic legislator spoken up on this issue? Geeze, why not scrap the tax credit altogether, let the money stay in the general fund, bite the bullet and go on to fully fund education.

But that just ain't the Republican way.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Thousand Points of Light…

…won’t cut it. On Christmas morning Katherine and I joined volunteers at the Tucson Convention Center to assist the Salvation Army in serving Christmas dinner. Our particular job was to drive around Tucson and deliver Christmas dinners to the sick or elderly who simply couldn’t leave their homes.

Christmas and Thanksgiving attract great numbers of volunteers eager to reach out to serve their fellow Tucsonans who are struck down by illness, homelessness, poverty, or the isolated loneliness of the elderly.

The Salvation Army PR person reports that more than 200 people volunteered on each of the two holidays. 3600 meals were served or delivered on Thanksgiving and 2400 on Christmas.

I think it’s fair to ask what good, in the long run, this annual feeding of the poor does. Of course it certainly provides a hot meal to people in need on two days out of the year. What it does not do is solve the problems of homelessness, poverty, the mentally ill forced on the streets as the result of the arbitrary closure of mental health facilities, or the social isolation that frequently comes with old age.

Feeding the poor is a ritual act, like washing feet, but as at least one famous foot-washer observed, “The poor you shall have always with you.” However extensive volunteerism becomes it will not solve problems embedded in a socie
ty’s social and political structure. The solutions require political action.

The value in volunteering is that it puts volunteers in direct contact with the poor and dispossessed. It reminds them (and I include myself here) that “the poor” are not just a category of social analysis but human beings. If we could get more people to spend just one day working in a homeless shelter they would be more inclined to endorse the political action nec
essary to really address the problems of poverty.

I wonder if that might not be the idea behind John Edwards’s One Corp?

Sunday, December 24, 2006


A "Merry...Whatever" to each and all, among whom I include: Mike, Ted, Lisa, George Tuttle, Matt, Kralmajales, Sirocco and all the other commenters and bloggers (left and right) who have made the year's jiggery-bloggery so much fun.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Little Something (Russian) on the Side

If you decide to get into hacking my guess is that the most cost-effective way of doing that is to buy Russian Iron…that is, a complete Ural outfit, bike and sidecar, sold as a unit.

It may also be the least aggravating. Why? Because mating a sidecar to most modern motorcycles requires that you build, or buy and install, some type of sub-frame. Few contemporary motorcycles have what used to be called a full cradle frame. Today the engine is part of the frame and that offers fewer mounting points for the sidecar.

I sometimes refer to the Ural as the greatest motorcycle of 1943, but I really like these outfits. The Ural is a Russian copy of the WW II German BMW military hack. When the Urals were first imported, only the sidecars themselves were brought into the country. Full outfits, bike and car, came in later.
The story of the Ural factory and the history of the bikes can be read at the official web site. link

The first outfits to come to the United States were, um..well, quality control challenged. Each year has seen improvements. Fit and Finish is excellent; engine size has been boosted to 750cc; new alternator; new carbs; electronic ignition. The bikes are constantly being improved and I don’t think a new buyer has much to worry about.

The current crop of Ural owners seems to be having a great time with their hacks, in large measure because of their boon-docking capabilities. Irbit Motorworks of America took bikes to Death Valley and filmed the hacks on some pretty gnarly desert trails. (Irbit, incidentally is the town in Russia where the bikes are made.) Take a look. link (This download is slow)

The military hack, although considered by the American armed forces, never caught on. Something better came along, the Jeep. The Russians are still promoting the Ural as having useful military applications. Here’s a clip from a longer promotional film. link
(Slow Download)

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Little Something On The Side

In a little over forty-five years of motorcycling I have almost always owned two bikes, a solo bike and a hack. A hack, of course, is a motorcycle with an attached sidecar. This is sometimes also referred to as an “outfit.” You can see a tiny picture of my current outfit in my profile over in the right panel. The bike is a BMW K1200RS. It is very fast.

Sidecarists (say, sigh-DECK-a-rists) are generally looked down on, or askance at, by solo bikers. The attitude of the lookers-down is either pitying or

The pitiers: “Poor old Bill got married and lumbered with rug rats. The poor guy’s old lady made him tie a tub to his motorcycle and now all he can do is putt around the neighborhood.”

The condescenders: “You got to hand it to gramps. He’s still out there in the wind, even though he’s too old and feeble to ride a real bike
any more.”

We tend to get the sideways look from bikers who tried siDECarism once with less than satisfactory results. “Geeze, I tried one of those things once and it scared the #%*& out of me.” There’s a reason for that response, which we’ll examin
e later.

Sidecar driving is one of the great motorsports. It is both very different from two-wheel biking and at the same time very like it. Working a hack at speed along a looping mountain road can be a real challenge and great fun.

Sidecaring has changed a lot over the years. The current Grand Prix racing sidecar is pretty exotic, and the racing competition is between two-man teams, which you’ll see, in the following clip.

1000cc engines and top speeds of 170 miles per hour. We don need no stinkeen stock cars. (Click)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Motorcycle Emissions Tests

Sometimes the bear eats you and sometimes you eat the bear! In this case Pima County motorcyclists have eaten the bear. A story in the Arizona Daily Star reports that we’ll no longer have to take scoots for emissions testing.

In all the years they’ve been testing here in Tucson my bikes have never failed the test. I’m glad to be free of the pointless trip half way across town.

While The Data Point takes a holiday vacation from politics we’ll be posting about motorcycles in a series called “A Little Something on The Side.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

‘Holiday’ Commentary

The Data Port surfaces from the frenzy of the alcoholidays to comment on the little disturbances of man…some of them my own.

When you pass me the greetings of the season I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t just pass off some generic greeting on me. Don’t wish me a ‘happy holiday’ out of misguided political correctness.

Instead wish me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah. I can go with a Good Kwanza, or a Festive Festivus, too. In no case will I be insulted or injured. Rather I will take it that this is a season of particular significance to you and that your greeting is a generous invitation to join in your particular joy.

I find it annoying when I offer someone a Merry, or a Happy, or a Good, or a Festive greeting to be snapped back at, “How do you know I’m….”

Incidentally I have, for the first time in three or four years, followed the grand pagan tradition of tree worship and gaily decorated my Festivus Pole. It is a genuine Chinese imitation pine tree. Political prisoners probably built it but they did a great job! It actually sheds its needles just like a real tree.

Have you noticed that ads by the watch-making industry are through the slick magazines like citron in fruitcake? To give your sweetie or your guy a Rolex or an Audemars Piguet, A Mont Blanc or Breguet is a big deal. It is the big deal, never mind that it can break your Christmas budget and cause your bank account to implode.

I suppose it’s the status value of these watches that make them sought after. If you can afford that much for a wristwatch you must surely have arrived.

It may be that these watches are essentially a guy thing. They are, after all, the last, the ultimate, achievement in mechanical timekeeping. Ooooh, wheels, cogs, springs, jewel bearings, dozens of finely machined parts, all whirring and spinning!

As mechanical collectibles they may certainly be worth the money for the folks who lust after them. They keep pretty good time, too, which somewhat justifies the thousands you can pay for them.

On the other hand if keeping really accurate time is your primary need you can get a very nice radio controlled watch that keeps time more accurately than an old fashioned mechanical watch for about 35 bucks.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tax Breaks And Other Items

I read in this morning’s Arizona Daily Star that everyone’s favorite political reporter, D. Scarpinato, has been cited for DUI. (link) A comment on this story led to an interesting backgrounder on Scarpinato from the Arizona Daily Wildcat. (link)

On a political note…this is the season when schools across the state urge us to make tax-free donations to our kids’ schools. Your good deed will be rewarded with a handsome tax right-off. For couples filing jointly this means you could knock as much as four hundred bucks off your state income tax bill, hence doing well by doing good.

Instead of giving tax money to the state general fund you may give it to your kids’ school so that Sis and Junior and their classmates can take advantage of increased extra-curricular goodies. Well, hell, you were going to have to part with that money anyway, why not use it for you and yours rather than put it into the general fund where it might be spent to enhance education all over the state?

What a deal, right? Well, yeah, if you live in the rich part of town…say Tucson’s Catalina Foothills. For folks up there a little discretionary cash is not a problem. But what if you live in a community that is not so blessed, one where life is often lived paycheck to paycheck? Even a little may be hard to come by.

Well, let the kids get back to basics. Who needs more than that?

My suggestion is that if you want to take advantage of this program you might want to find out what school districts in the state have the poorest families and make your donation to those schools.

(To read the details of this tax deal for the well-to-do, visit the Arizona
Department of Revenue. (link)


For some months now The Data Port has been running a parallel blog, DataPortMotorcycles. The point of the exercise was not to clog the Lefty Blog feed with non-political posting during the hot and heavy campaign season.
I’ve deleted DataPortMotorcycles, so once in a while you may expect to read some motorcycle news, purely personal reflections, and commentaries on the little disturbances of man, right here.


As a final 'housekeeping ' note I'll be cutting back on the blogging in the interest of taking time to celebrate the holidays both religious and secular.