Quotulatiousness

April 4, 2014

“Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them”

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

In Slate, Will Saletan digs through the data to find the next set of targets:

Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, “Download CSV.”) Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.

The first thing you’ll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he’s the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.

The next thing you’ll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.

Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.

Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.

Welcome to the church of SSM militant

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:

In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.

The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.

[...]

Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.

Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.

Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.

Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.

Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.

March 25, 2014

Tech culture and ageism

Filed under: Business, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Noam Scheiber examines the fanatic devotion to youth in (some parts of) the high tech culture:

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’”

Investors have also become addicted to the youth movement:

The economics of the V.C. industry help explain why. Investing in new companies is fantastically risky, and even the best V.C.s fail a large majority of the time. That makes it essential for the returns on successes to be enormous. Whereas a 500 percent return on a $2 million investment (or “5x,” as it’s known) would be considered remarkable in any other line of work, the investments that sustain a large V.C. fund are the “unicorns” and “super-unicorns” that return 100x or 1,000x — the Googles and the Facebooks.

And this is where finance meets what might charitably be called sociology but is really just Silicon Valley mysticism. Finding themselves in the position of chasing 100x or 1,000x returns, V.C.s invariably tell themselves a story about youngsters. “One of the reasons they collectively prefer youth is because youth has the potential for the black swan,” one V.C. told me of his competitors. “It hasn’t been marked down to reality yet. If I was at Google for five years, what’s the chance I would be a black swan? A lot lower than if you never heard of me. That’s the collective mentality.”

Some of the corporate cultures sound more like playgroups than workgroups:

Whatever the case, the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. Take Dropbox, which an MIT alumnus named Drew Houston co-founded in 2007, after he got tired of losing access to his files whenever he forgot a thumb drive. Dropbox quickly caught on among users and began to vacuum up piles of venture capital. But the company has never quite outgrown its dorm-room vibe, even now that it houses hundreds of employees in an 85,000-square-foot space. Dropbox has a full-service jamming studio and observes a weekly ritual known as whiskey Fridays. Job candidates have complained about being interviewed in conference rooms with names like “The Break-up Room” and the “Bromance Chamber.” (A spokesman says the names were recently changed.)

Once a year, Houston, who still wears his chunky MIT class ring, presides over “Hack Week,” during which Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside. “I’ve been up for about forty hours working on Dropbox Jeopardy,” one engineer told a documentarian who filmed a recent Hack Week. “It’s close to nearing insanity, but it feels worth it.”

It’s safe to say that the reigning sensibility at Dropbox has conquered more or less every corner of the tech world. The ping-pong playing can be ceaseless. The sexual mores are imported from college—“They’ll say something like, ‘This has been such a long day. I have to go out and meet some girls, hook up tonight,’ ” says one fortysomething consultant to several start-ups. And the vernacular is steroidally bro-ish. Another engineer in his forties who recently worked at a crowdsourcing company would steel himself anytime he reviewed a colleague’s work. “In programming, you need a throw-away variable,” the engineer explained to me. “So you come up with something quick.” With his co-workers “it would always be ‘dong’ this, ‘dick’ that, ‘balls’ this.”

There’s also the blind spot about having too many youth-focussed firms in the same market:

The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California. That’s how we’ve ended up with so many games (Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Crappy Bird) and all those apps for what one start-up founder described to me as cooler ways to hang out with friends on a Saturday night.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 17, 2014

Ultra-progressive agenda to fix California’s woes

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:06

Let’s be clear: parts of California are doing fantastically well, but other portions of the state are suffering disproportionally. Here are a few suggested legislative fixes to redress the inequalities of life faced by too many disadvantaged people in the state:

2. The Undocumented Immigrant Equity Act

The “I am Juan too Act” would assess all California communities by U.S. Census data to ascertain average per-household income levels as well as diversity percentages. Those counties assessed on average in the top 10% bracket of the state’s per-household income level, and which do not reflect the general ethnic make-up of the state, would be required to provide low-income housing for undocumented immigrants, who by 2020 would by law make up not less than 20% of such targeted communities’ general populations.

There are dozens of empty miles, for example, along the 280 freeway corridor from Palo Alto to Burlingame — an ideal place for high-density, low-income housing, served by high-speed rail. Aim: One, to achieve economic parity for undocumented immigrants by allowing them affordable housing in affluent areas where jobs are plentiful, wages are high, and opportunities exist for mentorships; and, two, to ensure cultural diversity among the non-diverse host community, bringing it into compliance with the state’s ethnic profile.

[...]

4. The Silicon Valley Transparency and Fair Jobs Act

This “Google Good Citizen Act” would set up a regional board to monitor commerce in the San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara tri-county area. The state regulatory commission would monitor offshore investment, outsourcing, and unionization. All commercial entities, with over 100 employees, would be in violation and face state fines if: 1) the number of a firm’s employees overseas accounted for 10% or more of the workforce currently employed within the tri-county Silicon Valley area; 2) more than 1% of the current capitalization of a Silicon Valley company were deposited in banks outside the United States; and 3) more than 50% of a tri-county company’s workforce were non-union. Aim: To ensure progressive Silicon Valley commercial businesses are caring progressive state citizens.

5. The California Firearms Safety Act

The “No Guns for Grandees Act” would forbid private security details to be armed with handguns or semi-automatic long guns. It would allow private security personnel to be armed only with paintball, BB or pellet guns. Aim: To prevent unnecessary armed deterrence by private security units in the hire of the affluent.

6. The Fair Housing Adjustment Act

The “Everywhere an Atherton Act” would tax all private residential square footage in excess of 1800 square feet at four times the current per square foot assessment. Aim: It would ensure state resources are equally distributed and not inordinately siphoned off to a small minority of the state population. Would encourage existing large homes to downsize through reverse remodeling.

February 10, 2014

A “Dumb” parody that Starbucks finds unamusing

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this “parody” of a Starbucks shop is too similar to the real thing and that it would be easy for someone to think they were buying “the real thing” at this store:

A store labeled as “Dumb Starbucks,” using the Starbucks corporate logo and bearing an almost identical look to an actual Starbucks, opened up in Los Feliz on Friday, according to employees.

It was open until about 6 p.m. Saturday and drinks were free as part of what a barista called a “grand opening.”

The coffee shop reopened again Sunday morning and coffee was again free. Dozens of people could be seen waiting in line to get in.

Messages left with people associated with “Dumb Starbucks” seeking comment have not been returned. Messages left with Starbucks Corporation have also not been returned.

The menu was limited.

On Sunday, there still was no business license or health code rating posted in the establishment. The baristas said they were hired from Craigslist.

Despite the popularity, customers seemed confused about what exactly was going on.

“I saw online that there was a Dumb Starbucks sign. One of my friends posted about it, and I live across the street, so I just walked over,” Jonathan Brown told KPCC. He described it as “weirdly off-kilter,” with everything looking like a regular Starbucks except for the word “dumb” in front of it.

Their “FAQ” posting shows that they’re aware that this ploy may not be lawyer-proof:

Dumb Starbucks FAQ

Update, 11 February: The prank is revealed to be the work of Nathan Fielder.

Mr Fielder appeared in person at the store to make the announcement, where he said there are plans to open a second outlet in Brooklyn, New York.

There had been widespread speculation that the store, which uses Starbucks’ trademarks, was a publicity stunt.

Starbucks said they were aware of the store but denied any affiliation.

“We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humour, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement.

December 21, 2013

Overzealous regulators create nationwide Sriracha shortage

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:56

Baylen Linnekin on the latest attempt to be safer-than-safe in food regulation:

Sriracha rooster sauceLast week California health regulators ordered the makers of Sriracha hot sauce to suspend operations for 30 days. The 30-day hold comes despite the fact the product has been on the market for more than three decades and that “no recall has been ordered and no pathogenic bacteria have been found[.]”

So what’s the issue?

The problem, reports the Pasadena Star News, is that Sriracha is a raw food.

“Because Sriracha is not cooked, only mashed and blended, Huy Fong needs to make sure its bottles won’t harbor dangerous bacteria,” writes the Star News.

Aren’t three decades of sales sufficient proof of that fact?

“The regulations outlining this process have been in existence for years,” writes California health department official Anita Gore, in a statement she sent to L.A. Weekly, “but the modified production requirements were established for the firm this year.”

In other words, the state changed the rules of the game.

October 31, 2013

A garage of historical significance

Filed under: History, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:28

In The Register, a remarkably blasé report on the designation of the house where Jobs and Wozniak created the first Apple computers:

The house where Steve Jobs built his first computers has been added to a list of historic buildings in Los Altos.

The Los Altos Historical Commission voted unanimously to add the home at 2066 Crist Drive as a historic resources, since its hallowed garage was where Jobs made his first computers and co-founded Apple, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The commission’s report said that it had been reviewing the property for potential designation for the past two years due to its “association with an event and an individual of historic significance”.

From other discussion on the topic, this will require the current owner of the property (Patricia Jobs, the sister of the late Steve Jobs) to get the commission’s advance permission to do any kind of work on the house … including ordinary maintenance. No funds from the municipality go along with this designation: once your house has been so designated, you no longer exercise full rights of ownership, but you still are required to pay for any work the commission deems necessary or desirable. Ms Jobs apparently still has a right to appeal, but I don’t know what her chances of success might be.

September 15, 2013

Sippican Cottage and the start of his welding career

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

All I can assume is that my RSS reader needs a good, swift kick every now and again because this post from Labour Day just showed up in my reader now …

I needed a job, bad, in LA, 1980-ish. I moved there with next to no money and no plan. I was only old enough to drink because they hadn’t changed the law yet. I’d had a dozen jobs or more already. No one was hiring nobody for nothing nohow. If I see another person compare today’s economy to the Depression I’m going to show them a picture of 1979. When a mortgage on a house reaches 17%, unemployment is right around 30% in the construction industry, and inflation looks like it’s going to touch 20, you get back to me. Car companies did more than just talk about going bankrupt back then.

I was sleeping on the couch in an apartment shared by two girls, neither of which I knew then or know now. You can distill painful shyness into a kind of brazenness if you try real hard.

The only job opening I could find was a classified for a welder. I had welded under a microscope before, so I was prepared to say I was qualified. A ship in a bottle is still a ship, right?

I drove 66 miles dead east from LA to get there. Outside the place looked like Ingsoc owned it, and inside it looked like Beelzebub was renting it. Medieval. A metal corrugated roof in the desert. The concrete block walls could just barely hold in the amount of crazy required to be a welder in there.

It was a terrible job and the pay was about the same as begging in Calcutta or maybe a dental assistant in England. There were — I remember because they told me — 135 people there that day applying for the job. There was a person sitting on every horizontal surface you could see making out an application. I was the only one wearing a suit and holding a resume. They took me out of the scrum, up the stairs, gave me the man what are you doing here act.

I lied. I lied like a politician. I lied like an infomercial. I lied like four hundred sermons played backwards. You bet I can weld your thermocouples. They sent 135 people away that very minute.

(to be continued)

I switched the Sippican Cottage RSS feed to NewsBlur instead and this story really does continue…

You couldn’t get an apartment in LA without a bank account and a job. You couldn’t get a bank account without a fixed address. I couldn’t get a job without an apartment. I can’t remember who was governor of California at the time. It might have been Jerry Brown or maybe George Deukmejian. At any rate, Franz Kafka was actually running the place. I picked a day, and simultaneously told the apartment landlady I had the job, told the bank I had the apartment, and told the job I could TIG weld thermocouples all the live-long day, baby. The Million Pound Bank Note is just a short story to you; it’s an instruction manual to me. You guys should read less Rand and more Twain if you want to get on in this world. By “less Rand,” I mean “no Rand,” and “all Twain,” actually.

March 13, 2013

Follow-up on the LAPD’s pickup truck shooting spree

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:16

Remember this gem of a story from last month? At the time, Jon (my former virtual landlord) strongly suggested I park my Toyota Tacoma in the garage just to avoid being targeted by random police “marksmen”.

Pickup shooting by LAPD

Here’s the follow-up that only makes the story that much more ridiculous:

“LAPD and Galpin Ford wanted [the women] to pose for a photo opportunity and pay income tax on the truck,” the NBC report reads, citing Jonas. “The women no longer want the truck after they were told they needed to fill out a 1099 form for the donation.”

For those of you who don’t know that a 1099 form is, it’s for tax form for “miscellaneous income.”

“You tried to murder the woman, now you’re telling her she can’t have a four-wheel drive, you’re telling her she can’t sell it and you’ve got to be taxed on it?” Jonas said. “How would anyone react to that?”

“Jonas plans on filing a government claim, which is a precursor to any lawsuit filed against a government agency. He said he felt the truck was being touted as a ‘reward or prize’ instead of a sincere gesture by the LAPD,” NBC 4 News notes:

I can’t improve on the comment Jon sent along with this link: “At this rate, I am surprised that the LAPD has not tried to bill the women for the 100+ rounds of ammunition.”

March 3, 2013

California’s retroactive tax grab

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:03

The state of California seems determined to drive out the remaining businesses that pay taxes. Here’s Wendy McElroy with news of a retroactive change to a small business tax break:

California cannot chase business away fast enough, it seems: high taxes, cap-and-trade, voracious unions, bankrupt cities, and now retroactive taxation.

Shortly before the Christmas holidays and oh so quietly, the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) rescinded a tax break that dated back to 1993. The Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) exclusion allowed small businesses and investors who met certain conditions to exclude or to defer 50 percent of the profits of sold stock from their personal income taxes. The incentive was intended to lure startup companies of under $50 million into the state.

Now those who were ensnared have not only lost that tax break for the future; many are also being taxed retroactively back to 2008. Plus interest. Plus possible penalties.

February 20, 2013

Incentives matter (a lot) — the growth of “Disabled America”

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

Colby Cosh discusses the rise and rise of “Disabled America”, the increasing number of adults of working age who are claiming disability support:

Just looking at fiscal and demographic stats from California will cause a cold, invisible hand to clutch at one’s throat, but talking to an endless series of seemingly able-bodied people who casually disclaim any capacity for honest work is even more chilling. When I got home I found out it’s not just California’s problem. In the OECD’s 2010 “Going for Growth” report, the percentage of the working-age labour force (20 to 65 years) receiving any kind of disability benefit or worker’s compensation is estimated at around 5.1 per cent for Canada. For OECD nations as a whole, the figure is 6.7 per cent.

Northern European welfare states, amiright? But for the super-competitive U.S.A., land of the proudly threadbare social safety net, the number was 9.2 per cent.

[. . .]

There is a handful of economists working on the problem without ever gaining much traction in the popular press; the atmosphere of general crisis hasn’t made it any easier for them to be heard. Reading their papers and seeing them plead for the same reforms every few years is almost as depressing as contemplating Disabled America itself. Just as social security for the aged was devised at a time when workers could expect only a few years of life after clearing 65, social security for the disabled was conceived at a time when manual labour was the norm and “disability” denoted identifiable, incapacitating physical injury. No one envisioned a world in which clerical and “knowledge” work had taken over, but the number of people judged totally unable to work had skyrocketed, owing to vague musculoskeletal disorders, unverifiable chronic pain and an astronomical expansion in the definitions of mental illnesses.

If the system is set up to provide more income through disability payments than through a paying job, there will be a tendency for minor ailments to be parlayed into a disability. When the incentives are rigged to encourage a certain kind of behaviour, people will adapt to take advantage of those incentives. If the system will effectively reward you for being “disabled”, it should be no surprise that we get more people applying for disability support.

Even if the economic climate was better, it’s not likely that governments will crack down on those abusing the system for a couple of solid reasons. First, it’s a public relations nightmare waiting to happen and every government worker knows that you never want your name to appear in the media in this kind of context. Second, people on the disability programs don’t count as unemployed and therefore reduce the pressure on the government to “do more” about jobs. And third, it’s easier to just go with the flow and not try to create any ruckus.

February 11, 2013

“I don’t want to use the word buffoonery but it really is unbridled police lawlessness”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:57

There’s more than a little bit of “explaining” due from the LAPD over these incidents:

David Perdue was on his way to sneak in some surfing before work Thursday morning when police flagged him down. They asked who he was and where he was headed, then sent him on his way.

Seconds later, Perdue’s attorney said, a Torrance police cruiser slammed into his pickup and officers opened fire; none of the bullets struck Perdue.

His pickup, police later explained, matched the description of the one belonging to Christopher Jordan Dorner — the ex-cop who has evaded authorities after allegedly killing three and wounding two more. But the pickups were different makes and colors. And Perdue looks nothing like Dorner: He’s several inches shorter and about a hundred pounds lighter. And Perdue is white; Dorner is black.

“I don’t want to use the word buffoonery but it really is unbridled police lawlessness,” said Robert Sheahen, Perdue’s attorney. “These people need training and they need restraint.”

That incident is pretty bad, and thank goodness that David Perdue wasn’t shot in the Keystone Kops re-enactment. In this earlier incident, however, the innocent civilians didn’t get off without injury:

As the vehicle approached the house, officers opened fire, unloading a barrage of bullets into the back of the truck. When the shooting stopped, they quickly realized their mistake. The truck was not a Nissan Titan, but a Toyota Tacoma. The color wasn’t gray, but aqua blue. And it wasn’t Dorner inside the truck, but a woman and her mother delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times.

Pickup shooting by LAPD

In an interview with The Times on Friday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck outlined the most detailed account yet of how the shooting unfolded. Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the victims of “a tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension,” he said. Just hours before, Dorner allegedly shot three police officers, one fatally. And, in an online posting authorities attributed to him, Dorner threatened to kill more police and seemed to take responsibility for the slaying over the weekend of the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiance.

Beck and others stressed that the investigation into the shooting is in its infancy. They declined to say how many officers were involved, what kind of weapons they used, how many bullets were fired and, perhaps most important, what kind of verbal warnings — if any — were given to the women before the shooting began.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the links to both articles and the urgent advice “You might want to park the Tacoma in the garage for awhile”.

February 5, 2013

Ontario facing fiscal crisis that is worse than California’s

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:17

In the Financial Post, Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis look at the under-reported fiscal problems Ontario has to deal with … and soon:

‘I do not want Ontario to become like California,” Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan once proclaimed. And it’s not hard to understand why — California is a fiscal nightmare. It has the lowest bond rating in the United States and its own treasurer, Bill Lockyer, referred to the state budget as “a fiscal train wreck.”

Yet, despite all that is said about California’s finances in the media and financial markets, Ontario is in much worse shape.

Back in 2002-03, the fiscal year before the governing Liberals took office, Ontario’s net debt (assets minus liabilities) stood at $132.6-billion. In the ensuing decade, the province’s debt ballooned by almost 78% to $235.6-billion (2011-12). Most worrying, however, is that if Ontario continues on its current path (status quo in terms of spending and revenues), its debt will balloon to over $550-billion (66% of GDP) by the end of the decade (2019-20).

[. . .]

On a per-person basis, Ontario’s bonded debt (the concept of net debt is not used in U.S. public accounting) currently stands at nearly $18,000, over four-and-a-half times that of California at $3,800. As a share of the economy, Ontario’s debt (38.6%) is more than five times that of the Golden State (7.7% of GDP). This is a stunning difference in the burden of debt, particularly given the attention and concern focused on California compared with Ontario.

While the two jurisdictions face similar average interest rates for their debt, the large difference in the stock of the debt means equally large differences in interest costs. Specifically, Ontario spends almost double what California does on interest costs in dollar terms and a little over three times what California spends as a share of the revenues collected, 8.9% compared to 2.8% of revenues. This is money that could have been spent on health care, education, public safety.

January 5, 2013

LA terminates luxury option for electric car owners

Filed under: Environment, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:43

It’s telling that one of the folks quoted in this article clearly identified the free parking at the airport as a primary reason for buying an electric vehicle:

On a recent morning, Jack Luu parked his plug-in Toyota Prius in one of the most expensive lots at Los Angeles International Airport before flying off to a film shoot in Canada. The lot, where Mr. Luu leaves his car as many as 10 times a month for business trips, normally charges $30 a day.

But when Mr. Luu returned home three weeks later, he drove out, as usual, without paying a dime.

“That was a huge reason why I bought the car in the first place,” says the 35-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., postproduction company executive, whose car qualifies for free parking for up to a month at a time in two of LAX’s most convenient—and costly—short-term lots.

Other than that, he says his ride is “expensive, underpowered and not really all that green,” because it can run just 12 miles on electricity before switching to gas.

For years, LAX has offered electric-vehicle owners one of the most generous incentives of its kind in the country: free parking for 30 days in two of its terminal lots, which contain, altogether, 38 charging stations. The rule was meant to encourage people to buy greener cars, but lately it has turned the lots into a mob scene, with some electric-vehicle drivers circling the stations desperately for electricity or running extension cords while others hog the charging spaces for weeks at a time.

November 2, 2012

California tax collectors discover exciting new technique: double billing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:04

Let’s say you’re an honest, upstanding citizen who pays your taxes on time and in full. Let us also say you happen to live in California. What would you do when you got a bill from a different agency of the state government, saying you still owed an amount of money that you paid in your state taxes (and have the documentation to prove it)? David Friedman ponders whether this new approach to state fund-raising is fraud or mere incompetence:

I recently received a bill from the California Board of Equalization (BOE) demanding that I pay them about three hundred dollars in use tax. That puzzled me, since I had already paid the use tax with my California state income tax return—my reporting it on that return is the only reason the BOE knew that I owed it. Just to be sure, I went online and checked my account with the Franchise Tax Board, the body that collects California income tax—it showed me owing nothing.

So I called the number for the BOE. The woman I spoke with told me that they had not received the money from the FTB and that if I did not want them to bill me for it I should call the FTB and have them take care of the matter. I called the number she gave me, got an FTB phone tree with no option of talking to a human being and no reference to use tax.

[. . .]

It is possible, of course, that I am misinterpreting incompetence as dishonesty—that at some stage in the process someone made a mistake, which will now be corrected. One reason I doubt that is that what the letter I received said was:

    “According to information provided to us by the Franchise Tax Board (FTB), you reported a use tax liability on your state income tax return. However, FTB advised the funds were not available to be transferred to the State Board of Equalization (BOE), which is ultimately responsible for the collection of use tax.”

    “If the use tax was remitted with your FTB return, the use tax was either redirected to a FTB liability or refunded by FTB. Accordingly, the BOE is sending this letter to inform you that the use tax remains due (see enclosed billing notice)”

They do not say that I did not pay the money to the FTB, merely that the FTB did not pay it to them. And the final bit, which I missed in the initial draft of this post and have just added, makes it clear that if I paid the money but the FTB didn’t pass it on, they want me to pay it again.

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