The Taxman Cometh via Ticketing!

You’ve probably heard that California is in trouble financially. No one wants to cut services and at the same time, no one wants to pay taxes. So what do you do? Ticket ticket ticket! And raise the fines for those tickets.

In the years I’ve lived in California, I’ve never seen so much traffic enforcement. They’re radaring all over the highways. And check this out–those fancy new parking meters are capable of neat tricks. For instance, it’s pretty easy to change the hours to 8 PM. 8 PM! In Oakland. Some ticket fines have more than doubled! The linkage to the financial crisis is explicit:

Oakland has raised the price of parking tickets, extended meter times to 8 p.m. in most parts of the city and is more aggressively enforcing parking violations, including in residential neighborhoods.

The decision is driven by the city’s budget woes, which deep cuts to city services alone did not solve. Falling sales and property, property transfer and hotel taxes have contributed to a $51 million decline in revenues.

One way or another, they’re going to get this money out of us. Would you rather just pay taxes or be nickled and dimed by the police? Which, of course, raises a related issue…why limit your fee collection to speeding and parking fines? Charging people for crimes, such as DUI, may be a money maker too…

Making A Business of Going Out of Business

In Adam Sandler’s 2008 masterpiece, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, the actor is offered a job at an electronics store called “Going Out of Business.” This is a shady operation that constantly makes false claims about products and rips people off. Sandler was mocking a real phenomenon–the liquidation companies named “going out of business” or “total liquidation sale.” The Journal has a fun article on the issue today, focusing on a rug salesman who has settled down in Texas for a permanent going out of business sale. Barry Newman reports:

Many localities do have rules against such claims. New York City asks stores to get licenses for angst-inspired specials, from “fire sale” to “lost our lease.” Texas asks the same. But with blowouts on every corner, there’s been no burst in enforcement. Texas has issued 49 such licenses since 2001 — and prosecuted one used-car dealer in Austin.

Taxing Cigarette Butts and the Buttheads Who Flick Them

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed a $0.33 tax on cigarettes to address the problem of cleaning up butts! This follows an audit (PDF) of litter in the city that found cigarette butts to be a major problem (along with chewing gum, and unbranded napkins).

The cigarette companies are against it:

“Obviously we think people should follow the littering laws, in California and elsewhere,” said Frank Lester, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., the nation’s second-largest manufacturer of cigarettes. “But we oppose any additional taxation on smokers to pay for that.”

But, isn’t this a rational response to the problem? The city performed an audit of a costly problem and found that smoking was a major contributor to the problem. A tax on smokers (so long as proportionate) seems like a good way to address the problem. The alternative proposed by Frank Lester would be to use our police resources on enforcement of a minor criminal law, and thus subject his own customers to citation and possible arrest!

Anyway, our culture has become much more sensitive to littering. None of us would throw a Coke can out the car window. But so many of us would flick a cigarette butt, even when there is a receptacle for butts nearby. Why?

Harvard Researchers Subpoenaed

This is one to watch. We might all get to learn more about the Harvard-Industrial Complex.

The Times reports:

Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena seeking information about the work and statements of three prominent Harvard researchers who have been the focus of a Congressional investigation into conflicts of interest in medicine.

The researchers — Drs. Joseph Biederman, Thomas Spencer and Timothy E. Wilens — are named in the subpoena, which was sent on Wednesday to Fletch Trammel, a lawyer who represents state attorneys general in lawsuits that claim makers of antipsychotic drugs defrauded state Medicaid programs by improperly marketing their medicines.

The three researchers have advocated increased use of antipsychotic medicines in children and have accepted lucrative consulting agreements from the drugs’ makers. Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican investigating conflicts of interest in medicine, found that each of the researchers had failed to report much of his consulting income to Harvard. Mr. Grassley has also said that Dr. Biederman and Dr. Wilens might have violated federal and university research rules. The controversy led Dr. Biederman to suspend his work with the drug industry.

Choosing a Medical Specialty V — Match Day!

In two hours I find out where I’ve matched and will spend my residency. It’s a special day for medical students, and may be the one day a year they really, universally cut loose. Much more than graduation, match feels like the culmination of years of hard work.

I’ll put up a post at around 12 saying where I ended up. If you’re curious about the process see our other posts on the match Choosing a Medical Specialty I, II, III, and IV.

Denialism Humor

Brought to us by The Onion San Francisco Historians Condemn 1906 Earthquake Deniers:

The 1906 Earthquake Deniers, a group reviled by Californians and scholars alike, held three days of lectures and roundtable discussions over what they call a “century-long hoax” of exaggerated seismic activity in the Bay area, and part of a conspiracy to bring the World’s Fair to San Francisco in 1915. Historians protested the conference, saying the organization’s statements denying any major seismic activity in 1906 are reprehensible and out of line with all available geologic data from the time.

“If an earthquake of that size really did strike downtown San Francisco, then where is all the rubble?” read one pamphlet, entitled “After$hock$: Truth, Lies, And The Business Of Earthquakes,” obtained by reporters. “Where are these alleged 3,000 dead? And why does the mayor refuse to answer questions about the fires that mysteriously started moments after the supposed ‘earthquake’ occurred? Ask yourself: Who is he protecting?”

The early 1906 Earthquake Denier movement began shortly after World War I, when historian Michael P. Harrison published an article alleging that the Chinese government and San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz devised a plan to purposely light the city on fire to acquire funds for a new Chinatown. The modern day movement, however, gained momentum in 1971 with Professor David Compson’s controversial book Earthquake?, which argued that the inability to freely question the disaster was “the equivalent of mental rape.”

Mental rape. Awesome. They even included the persecution complex.

And for someone who might be moving to San Fran in a month, this hit a bit close to home:

“San Franciscans need to wake up and smell the lies and deceits they’ve been fed for the last century,” Earthquake Denier Jared Meeder said. “If a giant earthquake did actually occur, why would anyone in their right mind rebuild a city knowing full well that another earthquake could easily come along and destroy it again?”

“Think about it,” Meeder added.

Thanks The Way Things Break and NVCC Geo Blog.

For-Profit Fundraising Fleeces the Charitable

Phillip Reese and Andrew McIntosh of the Sacramento Bee report:

If you give to a charity over the phone, there’s a growing likelihood that most of your donation will go to the telemarketer instead, according to a Bee analysis of state records.

More than a third of California charity telemarketing campaigns sent less than 20 cents on the dollar to the charities during 2007, the most recent year on record. Those campaigns and a smaller number of charity auctions and concerts raised $93 million for commercial fundraisers, and just $3 million for the charities.

There are some eye-popping numbers in the report (PDF) released by the California Attorney General. The Bee points to the American Diabetes Association, where in California alone, commercial fundraisers generated $13,000,000 in donations at a cost of $17,000,000. That organization is an outlier, but other prominent charities had significant negative revenue using telemarketing and other commercially-operated fundraising.

The most effective for-profit fundraising was done on behalf of the Ronald Regan Presidential Foundation, with 92% of a $3,482,100 bounty going to the organization!

Since the creation of the Do-Not-Call Registry, many charitable organizations have resorted to in-person solicitation on the street. Is this more or less invasive than telemarketing? I’m not sure. But I am very skeptical of the eleemosynary nature of these groups. Several of the popular in-person solicitors work for child poverty organizations. I’m not sure about the actual names of these charities, but “Children International” raised $1,275,675 and ended up paying the fundraiser $614,850; and “Save the Children Federation” only kept $997 of $71,811 raised. In dead last for effectiveness is the “Children’s Defense Fund,” which paid the fundraiser $29,676 for raising $2,480.