BNP Paribas Open owner Larry Ellison dodges the cliff

BNP Paribas Open and Indian Wells Tennis Garden owner Larry Ellison made some interesting headlines earlier this month as the fiscal cliff nears. The famed Silicon Valley innovator and Oracle founder/CEO stands to save millions of dollars this year in taxes thanks to an “accelerated” stock dividend payment approved by Oracle’s board, reports:

“Pointedly, Oracle says that billionaire Larry Ellison, its CEO and largest shareholder, was not involved in the board’s deliberations or vote on the decision. But Ellison, who owns 22.9% of the company, stands to reap the biggest windfall.”

Ellison (pictured above at the BNP Paribas Open in 2011), who also owns the Porcupine Creek estate in Rancho Mirage (formerly owned by billionaires Tim and Edra Blixseth) reportedly will receive nearly $200 million from the accelerated dividend payment this month on his more than 1.1 billion Oracle shares. Forbes reports that Ellison stands to see “considerable” tax savings at a 15 percent rate that could climb to as high as 44 percent next year (depending on how the approaching fiscal cliff snafu plays out).

Forbes notes that Oracle isn’t alone – other companies, such as Wal Mart, are moving up their dividend payments ahead of rate increases too.

Battle of the sexes update: Women won.

Sorry for the sobering news, fellas, but it’s a Monday.  Women have us beat.  And I’m not talking about head-to-head tennis matches.

Actually it’s the takeaway from this interesting US Census analysis.  Women make up 80 percent of the nation’s population aged 100 and older, according to the 2010 figures.  For every 100 centenarian women, there are only about 20 centenarian men.

As the study points out, the proportion of females in the population increases as we get older.  The men gradually drop off, so there are significantly fewer of us males by the time we hit the 100s.  *sigh*

And it’s no surprise that the oldest person in the world is a woman from Des Moines, Iowa: Dina Manfredini.  Manfredini, who’s more than 115 years old, emigrated to the US from Italy back in 1920. She became the oldest person just a few days ago, on Dec. 5.  Nor is it a surprise that the person before her was female as well.


When it comes to the battle of the sexes, time is on the ladies’ side….

(Read the whole thing here.)


Fewer babies in a bad economy

There’s been a lot of chatter post-Nov. 6 about the rise of the Latino voting block in the U.S. – and the data does show these voters will play an increasingly more decisive role in future election cycles.

Given that, I found this latest Pew Research Center report out today on America’s declining birth rate to be pretty interesting.  I suppose it’s not surprising that the birth rate, measured per 1,000 women ages 44, started to drop in 2008 – right as the Great Recession hit its stride:

But what got my attention is that according to Pew, the birth rate has plunged 14 percent among immigrant women – including a whopping 23 percent drop among Mexican immigrant women.

Overall, the Pew study found the birthrate in 2011 to be 63.2, based on data available so far, and that it’s at its lowest since 1920.

(Which reminds me: If you can, definitely check out Ken Burns’ latest, tw0-part documentary project on The Dust Bowl.  You might still be able to catch/DVR it on PBS. Easily his best work since The Civil War and Baseball.)

Pew: Latino voters “an awakened giant”

We used a lot of ink to cover the Latino vote in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.  That turned out to be a good move with Latinos playing a huge role in President Obama’s reelection, voting for him 3-to-1 over Gov. Romney.

The results threw many Republicans into crisis-mode.  Much of the post-election conventional wisdom has it that the GOP needs more effective PR to reach out to the nation’s growing minority communities if it ever wants to reclaim the White House.

And that effort just became a bit more urgent, according to a new study released today by the Pew Hispanic  Center. It finds that Hispanic electorate will nearly double by 2030 (from 23.7 million eligible voters now to 40 million then).  Here’s a graph of the Hispanic electoral growth so far:

You can read the whole thing here

One way to avoid natural disasters: Don’t be poor

It’s a topic that typically arises after a major natural disaster.  And after Hurricane Sandy, Businessweek’s Charles Kenny brings it up again, bluntly:

The best strategy for resilience against violent acts of nature is to be rich.

He cites this 2009 World Bank report, which finds around 90 percent of the 60,000 annual casualties from natural disasters occur in the developing world.

(That reports also points out that most of the casualties result from earthquakes. In impoverished areas, sturdier construction is too expensive compared to the developed world, and building codes are more often skirted thanks to systemic corruption. Compare that to NYC, where officials are now debating whether to build massively expensive storm-resistant sea walls)

Even in developed countries, it’s the poor who are typically most at risk. Post-Sandy, Genia Bellafante reports in NYT that most of New York’s public housing was built in flood zones, where land is cheapest.

Which reminds me of  post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans (more a man-made disaster than a natural one when the city’s shoddy levee system failed).  The residents and businesses there on higher ground – including the French Quarter – fared far better than the low-lying, lower-income areas.  The Crescent City’s Ninth Ward was virtually washed off the map (here’s my 2006 report for The Desert Sun from a trip back there, about a year after the storm).

Stay dry!

Frankenstorm price gouging? Not so fast.

Jacob Goldstein gets my Blogging Hero ‘O the Day award. Despite being “holed up in (his) Brooklyn apartment with (his) wife and (their) two daughters” during Hurricane Sandy, the NPR Planet Money reporter managed to write a good post on why most businesses don’t price-gouge their customers in the middle of a disaster.

The answer, it turns out, doesn’t have as much to do with kindness to customers during a crisis as it does market forces and a business’ bottom line.

Goldstein uses a 1986 academic study on prices and fairness to explain:

“The people … surveyed said they would punish businesses that raised prices in ways that seemed unfair. While I would have paid twice the normal price for my groceries yesterday, I would have felt like I was getting ripped off. After the storm passed, I might have started getting my groceries somewhere else.”

So while businesses might make a killing by raising prices on coveted supplies in the short term, they’ll lose money in the long term when their customers turn against them. Many states already have laws against price-gouging, Goldstein says, but often those laws aren’t even necessary thanks to this quirky principle.

Leave it to Planet Money to help explain the economy even while getting pelted by hurricane winds.

Treating our farmland better, for future’s sake

I happened to catch New York Times food writer Mark Bittman on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, LA?” radio show on the way home from Duroville last night discussing his recent trip to the sprawling, 450-mile-long breadbasket that is California’s Central Valley.

In a recent piece for The New York Times Magazine, Bittman marvels at the Central Valley’s agricultural output – millions of pounds of carrots a day, mountains of almonds, etc.  But he also frets about the unsustainable farming practices that could eventually undo one of the world’s most fertile areas.

A key takeaway from Bittman’s article:

Big farmers can be encouraged and taught — and perhaps incentivized — to use fewer and more precise pesticides, to reduce tillage and water use, to evaluate soil not only based on output but on health. The biggest beneficiary, of course, is the land, but the health of workers, animals, the environment and consumers are all important considerations as well. And in the valley right now, not much attention has been paid to them.

We’ve written in the past couple years on the similarities between the Central Valley and the eastern Coachella Valley.  Both regions share similar environmental health, pollution, housing and agricultural concerns. The Central Valley and its agricultural industry are vastly larger.  But the Coachella Valley, and its own humble $500 million annual agricultural industry, can learn from the trials of its “big brother” to the northwest – and hopefully make healthy, sustainable policy decisions to keep local farming thriving for years to come.

One key challenge we have down here that the Central Valley doesn’t have to worry about: The Salton Sea. (hint: it’s slowly dying)

On a related note, be sure to check out my colleague Denise Goolsby’s great piece on what could be the Coachella Valley’s next big cash crop.

UPDATE 10/17: Coachella Valley farmer Janell Percy, and local board member for the California Women for Agriculture, emails: “I can assure you all the concerns you have regarding CV agriculture are being practiced, implemented, and utilized by our farmers to the best of their ability.

“Without the use of sustainable practices, such as minimum tillage, drip irrigation, water conservation, Integrated Pest Management, precision planting and overall Good Management Practices, our farmers would not be successful nor productive.

“These practices are routine to our growers, they are not new, they are practices that have been integrated over the decades and will continue to be improved upon for many years to come.”

Recession recovery? Not for U.S. households

And the economic hits just keep coming.

Pew Research Center has a new analysis out today of U.S. Census data, and it shows that households across the country fared no better in the first two years after the Great Recession than they did during the recession itself.

During the recession years (2007-2009), median household income fell from nearly $54,500 to nearly $52,200, according to Pew – a loss of 4.2 percent.

Then, from 2009 to 2011, median household income fell to $50,054 – a loss of 4.1 percent.

The Pew report notes that households are typically slow to recover from recessions but that this is the worst recovery performance for that sector in four decades.


Translation: A lot of Americans are still having a very rough go of it out there.


NFL players and degenerative brain disease: A troubling trend

It’s not NFL season in America until Raiders fans start getting arrested.  We’re officially underway!

But the nation’s most popular sport has seen a lot of scrutiny lately over long-term brain damage and health hazards potentially linked to the game’s most violent and spectacular collisions.

Recent suicides by former players, perhaps most notably Junior Seau, have raised questions about a possible link between repeated concussions on the field and the depression caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The issue has already prompted several rule changes to discourage helmet-to-helmet collisions that cause concussions, as well as lawsuits brought on behalf of former players.

Now, as the new season kicks off, a new study finds a troubling trend: Former NFL players are three times more likely to die from “neurodegenerative” diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS – diseases that break down brain cells – than the general population.

The study, by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and other groups, included nearly 3,500 NFL players who played at least five seasons. It’s sure to ramp up the debate over whether more safety precautions are needed to protect NFL players.

Perez: “Time was not on our side”

I got a couple of inquiries after this story ran Wednesday on Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez’ proposed bill for undocumented farm and service workers.  Readers wanted to know more about why the bill failed (and so did we) but Pérez was unavailable before the story went to print late Tuesday.

I finally caught up with Pérez via phone this morning.  The Coachella Democrat, who’s seeking reelection to a third and final term in the Assembly, said that AB 916 failed to get out of the state Senate Rules Committee last week because “the clock ran out on us.”

As the story notes, Pérez offered an earlier version of his California Agricultural and Service Act (CASA, which means “home” in Spanish) in February but pulled it from consideration ahead of a relevant U.S. Supreme Court decision and modest immigration action by the Obama administration.

Pérez then re-introduced the proposal one week before the legislative session ended on Aug. 31 as a “gut-and-amend” bill.  However, it got caught stuck in committee – along with numerous other bills –  while party leaders negotiated what they could pass out of the session, Pérez said.  ”Unfortunately time was not on our side,” he added.

Pérez said he’ll have a clearer idea early next year (if reelected) whether to re-introduce the bill depending on who wins the White House – and whether they pursue immigration reform on the national level.