Posts tagged ‘Las Vegas’

97% Mortgages are 100% Insane

I am not sure there was ever any excuse for considering a 97% loan-to-value mortgage as "sensible" or "responsible."  After all, even without a drop in the market, the buyer is likely underwater on day one (net of real estate commissions).  Perhaps for someone who is very wealthy, whose income is an order of magnitude or two higher than the payments, this might be justfiable, but in fact these loans tend to get targeted at the most marginal of buyers.

But how can this possibly make sense when just 5 years ago the financial markets collapsed in large part due to these risky mortgages?  Quasi-public, now fully public guarantors Fannie and Freddie had to be bailed out by taxpayers with hundreds of billions of dollars.  There are still a non-trivial number of people trapped deep underwater in such mortgages, still facing foreclosure or trying to engineer a short sale after seeing the small bits of equity they invested swamped by a falling housing market.

But, here they go again:  Fannie and Freddie, now fully backed by the taxpayer, are ready to rush out and re-inflate a financial bubble by making what are effectively nothing-down loans:

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt has one heck of a sense of humor. How else to explain his choice of a Las Vegas casino as the venue for his Monday announcement that he’s revving up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to enable more risky mortgage loans? History says the joke will be on taxpayers when this federal gamble ends the same way previous ones did.

At his live appearance at Sin City’s Mandalay Bay, Mr. Watt told a crowd of mortgage bankers that “to increase access for creditworthy but lower-wealth borrowers,” his agency is working with Fan and Fred “to develop sensible and responsible guidelines for mortgages with loan-to-value ratios between 95 and 97%.”

The incredible part is that the Obama administration is justifying this based on all the people still underwater from the last time such loans were written.   The logic, if one can call it that, is to try to re-inflate the housing market now, and worry about the consequences -- never, I guess.  Politicians have an amazing capacity to mindlessly kick the can down the road, where short-term is the next morning's papers and unimaginably far in the distant future is after their next election.

Windows as a Stand-Alone Server

I have written before about how much trouble I had using windows as an unattended server for an application -- in this case for the XBMC video system on my TV's around the house.  No matter what I did, how many tweaks I made, how many websites I checked for advice, within a day or two some application or popup would take control of the screen and send my unattended application to the background.  This would not be such much of a problem if it was just me using it, but with a non-tech-savvy family members trying to interact with the device with a TV remote, it was unacceptable.  Eventually I switched to the Linux version of XBMC in a distribution call Openelec and I have had zero problems since.

I was reminded of all this at the San Diego airport.  They have these big beautiful screens with flight and weather and travel information.  But apparently they have problems making the windows popups go away as well (that's some sort of HP registration message in the window):

click to enlarge

 

The most amazing example I have ever seen was on a giant, giant advertising screen on the front of a casino in Las Vegas, which had a huge windows popup covering whatever ads were supposed to be served up.  I wish I had my camera but I was out jogging at the time.

Update:  A reader sent me this, via gizmodo, from Cowboys stadium

click to enlarge

An Infrastructure Proposal Where Everyone Gets it Wrong

Since I am on the topic of infrastructure today, let me discuss a project close to home

A major interstate highway must be built between Phoenix and Las Vegas to keep up with the region’s rapid population growth and to facilitate global trade, says a report released jointly Friday by transportation officials in Arizona and Nevada.

The 105-page report offered justification for constructing an Interstate 11, a multibillion dollar project to improve the link between the two metropolitan areas.

The report sets the stage for preliminary route, design and environmental studies ahead of any decision to build I-11, the nation’s most ambitious interstate project in a generation.

As envisioned, the project would convert U.S. 93 into a four-lane divided highway from Las Vegas to Wickenburg, taking advantage of the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.

I drive this road all the time, and I have never encountered any congestion.  A lot of it is already four lane divided, and the portions that are not move quite fast.  There is one town (1) between Las Vegas and Wickenburg on the two-lane section that requires one to slow down and has, I think, one stoplight.   I consistently average 75 miles an hour on the road.  Sure, it would be nice if it were an interstate all the way, but the only real problem is the congestion in the outskirts of Phoenix, and that is already being addressed with a new loop freeway.

How can you confirm this makes no sense?  Because neither AZ nor NV are spending their own money on this.  This is basically a marketing proposal to obtain federal funds.  If we actually had to spend our own state money on our own highway, I can't imagine anyone making it a priority over other local demands.  But if the Feds will spend money.....

And as dumb as this idea is, the opposition quoted in the article is even dumber, which is probably why this kind of project actually gets approved.  One group of geniuses, not identified, oppose the plan because they want a bullet train instead.  Yeah, that's the ticket -- there is not enough traffic to fill a two-lane highway and Southwest offers hour long flights for $95, so let's build a dedicated high speed rail line.  This is the eternal Las Vegas fantasy, that someone will spend billions to build high speed rail to whisk folks to their casinos.

Finally, there is the environmental argument:

Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club object to paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert. The area west of the White Tanks is largely open space, with a few isolated communities. Planners say the area could swell in population to 2.5 million, with the help of the freeway.

“We still think it’s a bad idea,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club in Arizona. “The freeway is not needed. It‘s time to look at other ways to look at our transportation needs.”

Opponents say I-11 will promote sprawl at a time when Arizonans are driving less.

I don't think widening of a road from 2-4 lanes is really "paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert", though it is funny to me that the same people who said this likely support enormous solar projects that do just that.  Further, anyone concerned with sprawl being promoted along the route have probably never driven on it.  The definition of "sprawl" is almost impossible to pin down, but I don't see people suddenly building suburbs around Wikieup (home of the single traffic light referenced earlier).  This is a freaking deserted road and people are no more likely to move here because the road is wider than they are to live along I-40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque (converted to an Interstate from 2-lane Route 66 years ago) .  If you do drive to Vegas, look for someone to offer a prop bet on the population swelling to 2.5 million and take the under.

Seriously, why can't anyone say in print the real problem here -- it is an expensive waste of money to upgrade a highway that has no congestion problems whatsoever and is simply a bid by state government employees to grab some federal highway funds to keep ADOT administrators and engineers employed.

I am driving this highway a week from Monday.   I will try to take some pictures of all the congestion.

Update:  I did the 299 miles from my house to the hotel on the strip in exactly 4.5 hours.  This includes a 15 minutes stop for gas and snacks as well as navigating from my home to the freeway in Phoenix and through Las Vegas traffic around the strip.  I averaged 66 miles per hour, including the stops and traffic and neighborhood streets.

When the Media Loses Its Skepticism - High Speed Rail Edition

I have said for a long time that I don't really think there is a lot of outright media bias in the sense of conspiring to bury or promote certain memes.   But there are real issues with the leftish monoculture of the media losing its skepticism on certain topics.

For example, high speed rail is one of those things we are just supposed to do, from the Leftish view.  Harry Reid's justification for a high speed rail line is typical:  he wants to see  "America catch up with the rest of the world".  Everyone else has these things, so it must be some failing of ours that we don't.  For the left, the benefits of high speed rail are a given, they are part of the liturgy and not to be questioned.  Which means that it is up to outsiders to do the media's work of applying some degree of skepticism whenever a high speed rail project is proposed.

Thus we get to this article on high speed rail about a supposedly "private" rail line from LA to Las Vegas.  As is usual in the media, none of the assumptions are questioned.

Greg Pollowitz gets at some of the more obvious problems.  First, it is fairly heroic spin to call a line that currently is getting $4.9 billion in public subsidies "privately funded."  Second, he points out that, like the proposed California high speed rail line, this is a train to nowhere as well

And second of all, having grown up in Los Angeles — and having lied to my parents to drive to Vegas since the time I was 16 years old — I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Los Angeles to Vegas drive. (CNN, Fox, MSDNC — call me!) I remember Victorville fondly as the place where we’d make our food-stop and pick up some In-N-Out burgers for the final half of the journey. And I can tell you this: There is no way anybody would ever drive through L.A.’s notorious traffic only to stop halfway and hop on a train on the other side of the El Cajon Pass and in doing so give up their personal transportation once they actually get to Vegas.

I want to reality-check their usage numbers.

DesertXpress estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip.

OK, right now there are about 3.7 annual air passengers between Las Vegas and the southern California airports, according to rail supporters.  It is hard to get at drivers, but the Las Vegas tourism folks believe that 25% of 36 million annual visitors to Vegas come from Southern California, so that would mean about 9 million total or about 5 million driving.

What this means is that to make this work, they are counting on more than half of all visitors from Southern California (and remember this includes San Diego) taking the train.  Is this reasonable?

  • The train is supposedly $50 (I will believe that when I see it).  Currently JetBlue flies from Burbank to Las Vegas for $56 in a flight that takes 69 minutes (vs. 84 for the train and remember that is from Victorville).   The standard rate from LAX, Burbank, or Long Beach seems to be around $74-77.
  • Airplanes leave for Las Vegas from airports all around LA and in San Diego.  Let's take a couple of locations.  Say you live near downtown LA, not because that is likely but it is relatively central and does not feel like cherry picking.  Victorville is a 84 mile 90 minute drive AT BEST, with no traffic.  The Burbank airport is a 15 mile, 18 minute drive from LA.  LAX is just a bit further.  Victorville is 82 miles and 90 minutes from Irvine and 146 miles/144 minutes from San Diego.  Both of these Southern California towns are just a few minutes from an airport with $70-ish flights to Vegas

So are drivers going to stop half way to Vegas, once they have completed the hard part of the drive, to get on a train?  Are flyers going to drive 1-2 hours further to get to the rail terminal to say $20?  Some will.  But will more than half?  No way.

Postscript:  If you really want to promote the train, forget shoveling tax money at it and pass a law that the TSA may not set up screening operations at its terminus.  That might get a few customers, though the odds this would happen, or that it would stick over time, are minuscule.

Extreme Weight Loss Program

Last week, when I posted that I was attending an extreme weight loss program in Las Vegas, it turned out to be a bit of a test to see if people actually clicked on the link.  I will post more later (I have a bid due today and am jamming on that) but here is a picture

Your humble correspondent is roughly in the center, heading at high speed towards a looming equal-and-opposite-direction-type disaster with the camera man.  It is all well and good to fully intellectualize the laws of mechanics in zero-g, and quite another to convince your body's motor control system to accept them.

Where's Coyote?

Last year at a charity auction I was able to win, at a substantially discounted price, passes for a weight-loss program I would not normally be able to afford.  My daughter and I will be attending this weekend in Las Vegas.  I will post a report next week.

Good for Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson gave the finger to the Republican my-family-values-must-be-your-family-values set

Presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson charged today in a formal statement through his campaign that the Family Leader “pledge” Republican candidates for President are being asked to sign is “offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded”.  Governor Johnson also plans to further state his position against the Family Leader pledge this afternoon in Las Vegas, NV at a speech he will deliver at the Conservative Leadership Conference.

Johnson went on to state that “the so-called ‘Marriage Vow” pledge that FAMILY LEADER is asking Republican candidates for President to sign attacks minority segments of our population and attempts to prevent and eliminate personal freedom.   This type of rhetoric is what gives Republicans a bad name.

“Government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I have always been a strong advocate of liberty and freedom from unnecessary government intervention into our lives. The freedoms that our forefathers fought for in this country are sacred and must be preserved. The Republican Party cannot be sidetracked into discussing these morally judgmental issues — such a discussion is simply wrongheaded. We need to maintain our position as the party of efficient government management and the watchdogs of the “public’s pocket book”.

“This ‘pledge’ is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn’t fit into a particular definition of ‘virtue’.

Johnson is easily my favorite Presidential candidate in recent memory.

Making Entrepreneurship Harder

The Free Market Project wonders why the government wants to make it harder for entrepreneurs to attract investment capital.

This is the same government that has no problem with the poorest people in our society, or anyone else, playing the lottery every week, or heading to an Indian casino or Las Vegas.  For certain, they don't have an income limit on who can contribute to a political campaign, despite the fact that there is generally no pay-off for that unless you're able to contribute thousands or bundle tens or hundreds of thousands in campaign donations....

My question is this: With the transparency possible using the Internet, why aren't average citizens able to spend small amounts of money (like, lottery ticket money) on seed-money investments?  With proper transparency and protections in place, why aren't entrepreneurs allowed to put their idea online so that the average Joe (or anyone) can look at what they're doing and invest in it if they like the idea?

Vegas, Baby

Apparently Wells Fargo is catching grief for having an internal conference in Las Vegas.  Tigerhawk defends Wells Fargo.  I don't know if the meeting if the meeting made business sense to hold in the first place (and I don't want to be in the business of caring which is yet another really good reason for the government not to be investing my money in these companies).  But I can tell you that Vegas makes tons of sense for a business conference.

My company has managers located all across the country, which makes it sound like we might be a really big company but in fact we are not.  It just turns out that we have a process that allows us to accept relatively small contracts around the country and still turn a profit.  Being small, and with profit margins well under 10% of revenues, I can assure you that we do not spend any money on items or events that are frivolous or superfluous boondoggles.  Against this backdrop, here are two things I can say with confidence:

  • You have to physically gather all you key managers and/or employees in one place from time to time.  No amount of teleconferencing and email can substitute for occasional face-to-face meetings.  We get all of our managers together for a week once every two years, and I wish I could afford to do it more often.
  • Given the fact that we have to meet somewhere, Vegas is just about the cheapest place in the country to hold a national meeting.  There are tons of cheap flights there from everywhere.  And since the hotels have  away of earning money from visitors that most other hotels in the country do not have (ie from gambling) they discount the rooms below equivalent quality rooms in most other large cities.  On top of this, every hotel I have used for a meeting in Vegas had great meeting facilities and really knew how to provide meeting and catering services.  Finally, many (but not all) of my employees love to go to Vegas, and consider the trip a treat/reward.  So, I get a positive reaction from my employees for taking them to one of the cheapest possible places.  A win-win for sure.

No Thanks, We're Waiting on Our Bailout

Via a reader:

An auction that netted $7.5 million in bids on 56 distressed Utah properties fell through last week after the owners -- three banks and two private lenders -- decided they may get a better deal by holding out for the government's bailout plan.

"There were buyers, but we couldn't sell the homes because free enterprise has gone out of the market," said Eric Nelson, founder of Las Vegas-based Eric Nelson Auctioneering.

His company on Sept. 30 put up for sale 56 foreclosed properties and lots, most of which are in Utah County.

The auction, held in Salt Lake City, attracted thousands, including 200 bidders who bid between $275,000 and $615,000 for 10 luxury homes in Midway and Murray that were appraised at between $525,000 and $652,000. They bid between $26,000 and $100,000 for 44 custom lots in Mapleton, Elk Ridge, Lehi, Alpine, Ogden, West Haven and Willard that were valued between $112,000 and $290,000 a piece.

The most-expensive properties on the auction block included a $1.2 million unfinished home in Draper, which attracted the highest bid at $615,000, while a 62-acre parcel in Park City that's valued at $3.5 million, snagged the highest bid at $1.125 million, said Eric Taylor Nelson, the company founder's nephew.

But all those bids were rejected late last week...

"This has never happened before. In the 25 years we've conducted lender-owned auctions, we've consistently closed over 95 percent of all high bids," Nelson said.

"The stock market's historic drop last week and the bailout plan are some of the main reasons why the lenders rejected the bids," he said. "They're thinking, 'Why sell the properties for 50 cents on the dollar when they may get 75 cents or 80 cents through the bailout?' "

Dumbest Thing I Have Read Today

Apparently from the lips of Barack Obama, via the WSJ and Tom Nelson:

"I want you to think about this," Barack Obama said in Las Vegas last
week. "The oil companies have already been given 68 million acres of
federal land, both onshore and offshore, to drill. They're allowed to
drill it, and yet they haven't touched it "“ 68 million acres that have
the potential to nearly double America's total oil production."

Wow.  I would not have thought it possible to blame government restrictions on drilling, which the oil companies have decried for years, on the oil companies themselves.  But apparently its possible. 

1.  Just because the Federal Government auctions an oil lease, it does not mean that there is oil there.  And if there is oil there, it does not mean the oil is recoverable economically or with current technology.  Does this even need to be said?

2.  The implication is that oil companies are intentionally not drilling available reserves (to raise prices or because they are just generally evil or whatever).  But if this is the case, then what is the problem with issuing new leases?  If oil companies aren't going to drill them, then the government gets a bunch of extra leasing money without any potential environmental issues.  Of course, nobody on the planet would argue Obama's real concern is that the new leases won't get drilled -- his concern is that they will get drilled and his environmental backers will get mad at him.

Dumbest Thing I Have Read Today

Apparently from the lips of Barack Obama, via the WSJ and Tom Nelson:

"I want you to think about this," Barack Obama said in Las Vegas last
week. "The oil companies have already been given 68 million acres of
federal land, both onshore and offshore, to drill. They're allowed to
drill it, and yet they haven't touched it "“ 68 million acres that have
the potential to nearly double America's total oil production."

Wow.  I would not have thought it possible to blame government restrictions on drilling, which the oil companies have decried for years, on the oil companies themselves.  But apparently its possible. 

1.  Just because the Federal Government auctions an oil lease, it does not mean that there is oil there.  And if there is oil there, it does not mean the oil is recoverable economically or with current technology.  Does this even need to be said?

2.  The implication is that oil companies are intentionally not drilling available reserves (to raise prices or because they are just generally evil or whatever).  But if this is the case, then what is the problem with issuing new leases?  If oil companies aren't going to drill them, then the government gets a bunch of extra leasing money without any potential environmental issues.  Of course, nobody on the planet would argue Obama's real concern is that the new leases won't get drilled -- his concern is that they will get drilled and his environmental backers will get mad at him.

Maybe They Should Have Tried Fox After All

Though I did not pay any attention to it, apparently the Clinton camp managed to stack the CNN Las Vegas debate doubly or triply in their favor, including having most all the talking head on CNN analyzing the debate be folks who are currently or have in the past been on the Clinton payroll.

Whatever.  I don't think it is any news that the Clintons play the politics game hard and well, though its amazing to me that she is embraced by those who complain about Bush being secretive and power-hungry.

Anyway, this did make me wonder.  The Democratic candidates were up-in-arms earlier this year that a debate (I think this one) was to be hosted by Fox, presumably because Fox is seen as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.  But given that there were no Republicans at the debate, I wonder if Obama and company now regret this decision.  Because it is almost certain that whatever problems Fox might have, Fox would certainly not have stacked a debate in Hillary's favor.

Favorite Headline of the Week

Via Overlawyered, one of my absolute favorite blogs, comes my favorite headline of the week, courtesy of KCRA in California:

Paraplegic Activist Leaps From Wheelchair, Runs From Police

That's classic.  Apparently, the person involved had defrauded numerous organizations with spurious ADA complaints under California's ridiculous sue-anyone-with-higher-net-worth-than-yours laws.

Police said Laura Lee Medley, who repeatedly filed claims and lawsuits
for noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, was a con
artist.

A San Bernardino County spokesman, David Wert, said
Medley had complained to police earlier that she was having medical
problems so she was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Wert said, "That's where the great miracle occurred."

Officers
said Medley, 35, leaped from her wheelchair and ran for freedom after
being placed under arrest by Las Vegas police. The barefoot woman was
caught after a brief pursuit.

According to authorities in
Southern California, Medley was never disabled but used her supposed
condition to file many medical claims and lawsuits. Her questionable
claims led to the arrest in Las Vegas.

The vast majority of my employees and many of my customers are over 60, so we try extra-hard to accommodate people with all kinds of disabilities.  That is why this type of fraud really burns me up.  Not once but twice we have killed incipient lawsuits when we have had customers who were claiming severe physical disabilities observed playing football or unloading a truck.  I have had one person I was interviewing for a job tell me that I had to hire him since he was disabled, because if I didn't choose him I would be discriminating against the handicapped (we chose a different candidate).

Update: More Unruh act silliness:

A Los Angeles psychologist who was denied a tote bag during a Mother's
Day giveaway at an Angel game is suing the baseball team, alleging sex
and age discrimination.

Michael Cohn's class-action claim in Orange County Superior Court
alleges that thousands of males and fans under 18 were "treated
unequally" at a "Family Sunday" promotion last May and are entitled to
$4,000 each in damages.

 

Viva Las Vegas!

There are probably a lot of reasons out there to criticize Las Vegas, but one thing it is great for is that it is perhaps the best and least expensive place in the country for a small business like mine to put on a national managers meeting.

We bring 60 managers in from all over the country.  We held our event at a hotel/casino a mile or two off the strip called the Orleans, where two years running we have gotten nice clean rooms and great service.  Beyond the good service and more-than-acceptable rooms, we get:

  • $60 room rates for mini-suites
  • Two days of lunches, breakfasts, snacks, coffee, an open bar with appetizers, and a meeting room all for less than $100 per person
  • Bar none, the best airline connections of any destination city except maybe Chicago, and they are all cheap (lots of America West and Southwest flights)

On top of all this, my people love it there.  Anyone running a national meeting on a budget should definitely consider it.

Socialist Casinos

OK, I confess, I enjoy Las Vegas.  I mean, after a while, the smoke and the noise and the weirdness make me ready to go home, but I do enjoy an evening walking up and down the strip, checking out the sites and the people, followed by a long night of blackjack and free drinks.

Vedran Vuk looks at the government run casinos in Canada in comparison with their US counterparts, and is unimpressed.

A policy so offensive resides in Niagara Falls' casinos that I shiver at the
thought of it. Of course, I speak of the policy of no "free" alcoholic
beverages. Free drinks in casinos is something that we have come to take for
granted in our free-market-driven casino industry.

Many people go to casinos exclusively for the free drinks. But of course we
can't have anything enjoyable in socialism. One beer is US$7. Furthermore, the
classic cheap and delicious casino buffet was nowhere to be seen. The buffet had
few choices, tasted like roasted nutria, and cost about US$12....

This can be most seen at the Texas Hold 'Em Poker tables at which I had the
pleasure of waiting an hour and a half before being permitted to play. There are
ten tables, seven dealers, and four people managing the waiting list.

An inefficiency such as this would never go on long in a real casino. What is
the purpose of the four managers when all the casino needs is dealers?! Is there
even a need for one manager of the waiting list? God forbid that the
commie casino would do anything that might be efficient and profit
maximizing.

With no shareholders to answer to and no real competition, there is no
incentive to get more dealers instead of waiting-list managers. The bloated
staff of Canada's commie casinos is typical of the kind of patronage schemes
that infect all government enterprises. The end result is me waiting for ninety
minutes, during which time the casino is making no money from me.

A Nice Irony

With a hat tip to Cafe Hayek, comes this article from the Las Vegas Weekly:

The shade from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market sign is minimal around noon;
still, six picketers squeeze their thermoses and Dasani bottles onto the dirt
below, trying to keep their water cool. They're walking five-hour shifts on this
corner at Stephanie Street and American Pacific Drive in Henderson"”anti-Wal-Mart
signs propped lazily on their shoulders, deep suntans on their faces and
arms"”with two 15-minute breaks to run across the street and use the washroom at
a gas station....

They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied
Forces/Labor Express by the union"”United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting
the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

"It don't make no sense, does it?" says James Greer, the line foreman and the
only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign
on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. "We're
sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don't even know it."

The union accuses Wal-Mart of dragging down wages and working conditions for
other grocery-store workers across the nation. "Whether you work or shop at
Wal-Mart, the giant retailer's employment practices affect your wages. Wal-Mart
leads the race to the bottom in wages and health-care," says the UFCW's website.
"As the largest corporation in the world, Wal-Mart has a responsibility to the
people who built it. Wal-Mart jobs offer low pay, inadequate and unaffordable
healthcare, and off the clock work."

But standing with a union-supplied sign on his shoulder that reads, Don't
Shop WalMart: Below Area Standards, picketer and former Wal-Mart employee Sal
Rivera says about the notorious working conditions of his former big-box
employer: "I can't complain. It wasn't bad. They started paying me at $6.75, and
after three months I was already getting $7, then I got Employee of the Month,
and by the time I left (in less than one year), I was making $8.63 an hour."
Rivera worked in maintenance and quit four years ago for personal reasons, he
says. He would consider reapplying.

LOL.  Frequent readers will know that I usually feel the need to restate the moral of the story to insure everyone gets it.  I don't think thats necesary here.  More on Walmart and wages here and here.

Do People Want Regulation?

Advocates of the statist web of regulation in California argue that this mass of government control makes California a more desirable place to live.  Andy Roth asks, does it?

Some high income earners are
leaving
California because of its punitive tax rates. Could low- and
middle-income workers be leaving as well? One crude measure is to examine the
one-way rental rates for U-Haul vans. Using U-Haul's website, I queried a one-way rental for a 10-foot van
for October 1st, 2005.

   
   
   
   
   
   

One-Way Trip Price
Los Angeles to Las Vegas $454.00
Las Vegas to Los Angeles $119.00

The ACLU is a Little Late to the Party

Reason reports that the ACLU is jumping into the fray to try to prevent Las Vegas from levying a special sales tax on strippers (emphasis added)

A Nevada bill that would impose a
10 percent tax on strip club dancing will be struck down in
court if lawmakers pass it, an American Civil Liberties Union
lawyer said on Wednesday.

"You can not have a special tax aimed at First Amendment
activity based on content," said Allen Lichtenstein, general
counsel of the ACLU of Nevada.

"Adult entertainment, which is protected by the First
Amendment, is being targeted to bear the burden of taxes where
other businesses are not," Lichtenstein said, referring to the
bill. "To single out a particular business based on content and
tax it with a special tax is unconstitutional
."

Don't get me wrong, I am certainly happy that the ACLU has suddenly discovered the rights of taxpayers, but they seem a bit late to the party.  I mean, states that charge the same tax to every business, especially the same sales tax rate, are the exception.  States all charge special hotel rates, rent car taxes, airport fees, long distance surcharges, etc etc.  For example, here are just a few of the special unique industry-specific taxes on the California BOE site (by the way, you know you live in a socialist state when your tax department is called the "Board of Equalization"):

This is far from a complete list, but you get the idea. This article from the Tax Policy Center explains that narrow industry specific excise taxes have a very long history in this country.  And this completely leaves off the issues of subsidies that are targeted at particular industries, such as the billions in direct subsidies received by farmers, not to mention the additional billions in price supports they get as well.  (Reason, by the way, has done some entertaining research on the millions of dollars of farm subsidies received by the family of Farm-aid founder John Cougar Mellancamp).  I am eager to see the ACLU begin tackling these other "special taxes" on "particular businesses".

I am not sure what motivated the ACLU to finally join the taxpayer cause, other than perhaps a personal financial interest their leadership team might have in this particular tax, but I for one am happy to welcome them to the cause.

Update: I am still having fun trying to imagine how the ACLU, the supposed protector of individual rights that has never had a problem up 'till now with our class warfare tax rates that are zero on some Americans and 40+% on others, suddenly had an epiphany about unequal levels of taxation when it comes to taxing strippers.  I have this visual picture in my head of the local head of the ACLU slipping a five into an entertainers g-string but getting mad when he couldn't get the two extra quarters in there to pay the tax.

Update #2: By the way, for all the flippancy in my post about the ACLU, they are absolutely right in this case, if way too narrowly focused.  I criticize the ACLU often because of the 21 policy areas it considers critical to individual rights, none have anything to do with property rights or economic freedom.  However, the ACLU is a strong and consistent defender of free political speech during a time when speech is under attack from all sides of the political spectrum.  The ACLU realized early on something the left still won't acknowledge, that it is impossible to separate regulation on spending for speech from restrictions on speech itself

Unfortunately, what the ACLU refuses to recognize is that all commerce, not just purchasing political ads or buying couch dances, is a form of communication and free expression.  The economy is nothing more than individuals, millions of times a day, communicating and reaching agreements to trade for mutual benefit.   Why is it any less of a restriction of free speech when the government places restrictions on this communication, say by restricting the range of wages I can offer an employee?  Or, more obviously, how can the government place regulations on what I can say about my company in an advertisement, but not on what I say about a political candidate?

The ACLU in this case seeks to evade sanctioning free speech in that dirty commercial world by apparently arguing that stripping is not commerce but artistic expression.  But by that logic, the government shouldn't be allowed to tax building and construction, for surely buildings are a strong and lasting form of art and expression.  Or how about cars - I certainly consider a Ferrari a much higher form of expression than a couch dance.  How can the government tax cars?  Or what about T-shirts with a political message -- can governments charge sales taxes on those?  What about the lawn service I pay to have a beautiful green lawn, which is the ultimate form of suburban expression?

At the end of the day, it is impossible to separate money and commerce and property from speech and expression.  Commerce is the most ubiquitous and important form of free expression we have in this country.  So far, the ACLU seems to acknowledge this fact only for topless dancers and politicians.  I wish they would extend their efforts to protect both free speech and free commerce to the rest of us.

My Favorite Howard Hughes Story

Given the recent fascination with the upcoming Howard Hughes biopic, as well as any number of other articles on his life (this article covers some of the more eccentric parts left out of the movie)  I remembered my favorite Hughes story. 

Howard Hughes loved watching movies at night.  Now, this won't seem too odd to most of us, since many people, myself included, have spent a few late nights watching an old movie on cable or on the DVD player.  However, Hughes had a problem.  He liked to watch movies of his choosing in his own room on top of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas before anyone had dreamed up HBO or the VCR. 

Hughes was not daunted by this small problem.  This is the man that bought the Desert Inn when they threatened to evict him.  So, Hughes bought a local TV station.  Each week, the TV station would publish its weekly schedule, including the movies it planned to show each evening;  however, it seldom followed this schedule, because each evening Howard Hughes would call his station and tell them what movie he wanted to see, and that would be what they broadcast.  So, in a sense, Howard Hughes invented pay per view TV, though his version was kind of expensive.  Also, the TV station apparently got a lot of complaints for never showing the movie listed in the TV guide.

Quick Convention Scorecard

Here is a quick scorecard of the Convenience Store convention today.

Scope: B decent mix of vendors but repetitious in some odd categories

Relevance to me: C- unfortunately, not many vendors of the type I was looking for

Venue: C Las Vegas convention hall, been there, done that. Positive of new Star Trek show next door offset by the fact the monorail was broken and traffic, as usual, sucked.

Food and Bev: A+ Awesome. This is basically 60% a snack food show and everyone had samples. Plus, all the beer manufacturers there in the middle pouring cold ones

Booth Babes: B- Kind of disappointing -- couldn't hold a candle to the consumer electronics or even better, the auto shows. Would have been a C+ but presence of vendor booths for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler staffed, uh, how you might think they would be staffed, brought up the score.

Other: B+ Got two good autographs, one from Raleigh Fingers (sp?) and one from Ed McCaffery. Skipped on the centerfold and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader autograph lines (which, interestingly enough, were filled with women waiting for autgraphs).

Feet are killing me.

Blogging in Las Vegas

I am blogging today from Las Vegas, here for the convenience store convention. We run a number of small stores in our campgrounds and marinas, and I am trying to figure out how to make these operations more sophisticated.

I don't know if anyone else feels this way, but I am always a bit self-conscious at a convention. The whole thing is so stereotypical from TV and movies and so predictable from past experience, it somehow becomes kind of a caricature of itself. I always feels like a bit of a schmuck walking around with my little badge and doing that predictable little dance with vendors.

Thank God, though, that I am not working the convention tables as an exhibitor any more. "Have you seen the new model T-1000?" Uggh. And the stodgy companies I worked for never even had booth babes.