SIX MONTHS

That’s what it’s been since Inauguration. Huge problems remain (see, for example, tomorrow’s column). But an economic situation that could have become catastrophically bad did not. Our standing in the world is dramatically improved. We are going full speed ahead on stem cell research. Women have been assured equal pay for equal work. African-Americans have been inspired to put dreams ahead of excuses. LGBT Americans have been re-welcomed into the American family. A Latina joins the Supreme Court. Our Education Secretary is pulling out the stops to encourage innovation. Universal health insurance is on the horizon. Fuel efficiency standards have been hiked. Science has returned to the White House.

If every successive six months is as constructive, we just might make it.

PARS FOR THE CORPSE

Well, not the corpse, actually; the irritable bowel. (Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry says, “Hellooooooo!” to his girlfriend’s stomach? And she gets irritable? Irritable bowel syndrome has nothing to do with that.) PARS is the symbol of a struggling little company currently valued at $16 million – 29 cents a share – that’s been working on this problem and may report results of a clinical trial in the next couple of months. If the report is good, as he thinks they will be, my pharma guru thinks the stock will go to anywhere from $2 to $4. If bad, to zero. He is generally – but not always! – right, so this is another of those highly speculative bets one should make only with money one can truly afford to lose, because one truly might.

95 MPG

Tom Anthony: “Just modifying the shape of a 1992 Honda Civic for $400 of materials increases its gas mileage to 95 miles per gallon. This car can now go over 800 miles on one tank of gas.”

GOOD SLIME

I have a hard time picturing a million acres of these algae tanks – they are starting with 24 acres as a test. And even on that scale, we’d be producing just 6 billion gallons of ethanol a year, which believe it or not is the equivalent of just a couple of weeks’ domestic gasoline consumption. Then again, the economics and environmental implications of “Algenol” are intriguing . . . and the great thing about acres is that there are 640 of them to the square mile, so what we’re talking about here is an area about 40 miles by 40 miles, less than half of one percent the size of Texas.

BAD SLIME

As reported here, it seems the American Conservative Union offered to take FedEx’s side on some pending labor legislation – at a charge of $2 million – but, when rebuffed, took the other side of the issue instead. Barry Goldwater spins in his grave.

CONVERT YOUR IRA?

Ed Shoben: “Did you see this article in Saturday’s Times? It suggested that the tax-free withdrawal provisions of the Roth IRA might be altered in the future. I had always thought such changes were highly unlikely.”

☞ January 1, 2010, the income restrictions for converting a traditional IRA to a Roth disappear. I’m likely to do it, at least partially, myself.

I doubt Congress will ever go back on its word and make Roth IRA distributions (or, for that matter, tax-free-bond interest) taxable. I think the most likely tax scenario, not mentioned by the Times: Years from now, tax-free Roth IRA distributions may be included in calculating various “means tested” benefits (like what you pay for Medicare) and in calculating allowable income tax exemptions and deductions. That would be like a tax . . . but I would be surprised if it were done in such a way as to eliminate the value of the Roth altogether.

Another (to me less likely) risk: Perhaps – in the very distant future – the income tax will be phased out in favor of a consumption tax. That would have the effect of eliminating the tax advantage of the Roth IRA (and municipal bonds). All income would be tax free, so you’d feel a fool to have paid the tax in 2010 to convert. But I don’t see it happening.

WALTER CRONKITE

A voice of reason, decency, dignity, calm, and compassion. Hear It Now on a recording that should interest anyone but that resonates especially for anyone who lived through the Sixties. (Scroll down a few inches to preview.)

 

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