Fiscal fairness, take the money and run

Early this month I posted this entry on “fiscal fairness” about paying taxes. This week two items have come up that show why the tax avoidance situation has become unsustainable here in the US and in the UK.

First up in the US in the story that Facebook founding backer Eduardo Saverin’s renunciation of his U.S. citizenship. It really doesn’t matter what he says, Eduardo benefit from the system in place here in the US, and now he is about to get billions of US$ from the Facebook IPO, On advice of counsel, he’s established residency in Singapore, where there is no capital-gains tax. Eric Liu has a good piece on time.com

Then there is Vodafone in the UK. In the UK Private Eye, satirical and investigative magazine #1312, the Eye has uncovered evidence of what it says is total collusion between Vodafone and the head of the Tax authorities in the UK. There has been lots of coverage of the let-off of Vodafones tax bill, but this is the first news of a link that shows how they did it. They’ve managed to get of billions of UK pounds in taxes by using an offshore tax haven in Luxembourg, and making billions in interest and paying little or no taxes. The problem with this for the US, is that Vodafone owns 45% stake in Verizon Wireless. Private Eye isn’t online, but here is a summary.

The problem with both these examples is that although they may be legal, although thats questionable, in both cases it is in essence asset stripping the economies that enabled to make the money in the first place. If everyone did the same thing, then the countries that are target of this manipulation prohibit the next generation from benefiting the same infrastructure you did.

Eric includes on his article a saying attributed to Bill Gates sr. You can read it in full here. Eric write this as “Bill Gates Sr., the father of the father of the first great high-tech fortune, often points out that there is no such thing as a self-made man. We need a country where the dream isn’t to escape to a tax-free island but to be like the elder Gates: responsible, reciprocal, and a citizen of the United States”.

Think of it this way, paying tax is buying civilization.

Dip and Enjoy

They’re stocking biscotti again in the cafeteria in the RR5 mau5trap again, its right next to the register where you pay for “We proudly brew Starbucks coffee”. I’m delighted. I got back to my desk and turned it over to open it, really you had to print an extra label that told you what to do with a bisocotti?

The McDonalds case which ended in them now printing “Warning: Contents Hot.” on Coffee was actaully pretty serious but this is surely just stating the bloody obvious, nes pa?

Money too tight to mention, credit no longer matters

I’ve finally had a financial epiphany. Since the summer of 2004 I’ve been totally focused on getting a perfect credit rating after I got turned down by AT&T for a lousy monthly cellphone contract as I had a -3 credit rating, despite owning a big house back in the UK and having a near perfect credit rating there.

Anyone that reads my rambling will know that until recently I was still anal retentive about this. Especially since I paid off my mortgage and much to my horror, my credit rating dropped. It dropped last month as well and is down from a high of 780, to 764. 764 is still in the top 5% but I was really hoping this would be one way I could make the top 1%.

The epiphany? Well, actually, just like I don’t much need AT&T anymore, I don’t need a credit rating. While there are a few things a credit check remains important for, the rating itself no longer matters, hopefully for me it will stay that way.

Tax, Apple, Buffet, and doing the right thing

image from mainstreet.com
A number of people on my facebook stream have been posting and commenting on the ruckus over Apples tax avoidance, especially as it relates to iTunes, which even a Luxembourg Government official has jumped in to defend the iTunes tax evasion scheme. The other thread that has been running is commentry on the so called “Buffet Rule”, a proposed tax code change to force millionaires and up, to pay a tax rate that is  comparable to the average middle income family, or some such.

I think this is all losing perspective though, although both cases are dissimilar in practice, at their core, the complaints are about the same thing. While Apple is a worldwide corporation, with many share holders, to whom it owes a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit, how it does it is the same as Buffett.

Changes in laws, it shouldn’t be needed. The billionaires and big companies are master of their own empires, they are not beholden to their accountants and tax advisors. They should move their investments on shore, make sure they are paying a fair wage to all their employees, provide decent health care etc. thats all everone else expects of them. Forcing the goverment to try to inact a law/rule change that is divisive purely because of the polarizing because of what it is trying to do, is just BS. when said billionaires and companies should know that they’d never had made their money in the first place in a weak, unhealthy country that was racked with division, decaying infrastructure, pollution, poorly educated children. JUST PAY YOUR TAXES, don’t avoid them.

Companies recently have spent a lot of time and effort dressing up their annual reports to show their environment and ethical efforts, it is time they did the same for fiscal fairness.

Opportunity and the G Spot

I had a bunch of other cuttings from the newspapers on my Bangalore trip, they didn’t really define or represent the trip, they just showed the big discontinuity between the modern, progressive India, and the pace at which the people are evolving to meet those demands. On the way back I flew via London, one of the few remaining options now American Airlines has cancelled their Delhi flight.

In the terminal I picked up a copy of the Independent newspaper from Friday. It had some great coverage and content on the Murdoch/News International phone tapping scandal, including this troubling commentary from Hayley Barlow on Murdoch and her time and since at News International; there a thoughtful piece by Philip Henscher on the “Spy in a bag”.

But for the defining commentary on Britain, look no further than the letters column, aserbic, sharp, witty, and intelligent it was all there. Here are the last two letters from the column, brilliant.

Traffic, Health and Death in Bangalore

clip from the Times of India

So, this article in the Times of India goes to some length to describe why Bangalores drivers are the worst. But the real problem is the way that life interacts with traffic in Bangalore. The narrow streets, the unfinished roads, the volume of traffic, especially motorcycles and mopeds is just stunning. There is almost no perceivable traffic order and priority everyone just heads in every direction at once and cuts in and out honking all the time.

There are a number of things that make it worse, much worse. You need to understand that cows are sacred and deemed to be a good luck charm. Even in the city they are easily found wandering freely, helping eat the trash and what ever else they can find that can be swallowed, not I didn’t say digestible, cause I don’t want to look. I did see a cow one day eating, chewing what looked like the remnents of a brown paper bag.

Wednesday though there was a massive traffic jam on the way to the hotel, eventually we pulled alongside a man pulling a cow in the road by a piece of rope, tethered to the cow by what looed like a steel bridal through his nose. The guy was far enough from the kerb to cause the traffic jam. Just before we got to him, I could see a massive stream of urine and the cow defacting as the man struggled to move the cow. The guy wasn’t looking at the cow, he was too busy talking on his cellphone. Surreal, when worlds collide.

It wasn’t surpising when this small van passed us the next day, on the side of the van it said Coffin Box, Funeral Box, Embalming or some such. My first reaction was wow, given it was something like 37c/98f I hope the body is properly embalmed, but on closer inspection, there seem to be wheels on the bottom, maybe it isn’t a coffin afterall. Yep, Bangalore traffic is pretty unusual.

Energy wars

While here in the US there is a program to discourage energy use, or to economize, as we approach the summer in Texas the energy utility companies will be encouraging us to move the dial up on the a/c, if you’ve got a smart meter, they’ll be doing it remotely.

None of that in Bangalore, the front page of the Times of India is screaming out to “keep the fans and ACs around the clock”. The temps are comparable to ours and I’m guessing that less than 20% of the population of Bangalore has access to AC. So next time you are wondering why there is an energy crisis, imagine this scene being repeated across India, Africa, and the far east…

In some ways, we could consider the current behavior in US as a forerunner for much tougher times to come.

Disconnected service

I’m out in Bangalore and its been crazy. My driver just took an hour to drive 8km to take me to dinner, that pretty much explains why I eat in, but more on the traffic and driving later.

By today’s 5* standard the Leela Palace where I’m staying is a 7* hotel, every detail is taken care of. Room service tidies everything, including dirty laundry, which gets folded and if I leave it in a bag, cleaned, laundered and folded better than I’d ever get it done in the US OR UK.

But like many things here, the have processes but they are disconnected. Every night the maid comes in and does the night setup on the right hand side of the bed, I always sleep on the left.

I kept a newspaper from Monday, but everyday room service comes in and tidies everything, including yesterdays papers and as we know, no self respecting businessman wants yesterdays news. I had to ask for it back, and lock it in my case.

And so it was today while I ran 5-miles indoors on the treadmill, I watched a team of 5 “electricians” rewire lights on a wall in the gym. I’m sure those connections were getting covered in gaffer tape… Which is a shame, because that wall is actually a water feature. Disconnected service?

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Zen and the art of the wet shave

Picture of shaving foam covered face
CC licensed: Some rights reserved by Darran J on flickr.com

Like most things in life that are “essential” they quickly become way over commercialized as they are a great way to get you to spend money, shaving in the western world is probably one of the best examples of this. Gillette Fusion cartridges for example sell for upwards of $16 for 4x blades, outrageous. They can’t cost $2 to make, and no amount of complaining or whining by Gillette will convince me its the research cost, to put 2/3/4/5 blades on a single razor. They go to more trouble and effort to package than the blades, as anyone that buys them would know.

Add to that regular purchases of a branded-shaving foam and you are spending at least a couple of bucks a day to shave. Ridiculous. That probably also accounts for while razor blades are one of the most stolen items from stores, they are necessary, expensive, available…

About 10yrs ago when I was travelling a lot, time would come and I’d forget razors, forget to take extra blades on a multi-week trip, forget to take shaving foam etc. One trip my suitcase went AWOL and all I could get was a disposable razor, and a very small disposable pouch with something called shaving oil. I followed the instructions on the pouch and yeah, I had a great shave. Disposable razors had never worked for me, and this one gave four great shaves until I ran out of oil.

Back home, I tried switching back to disposable razors, #fail. Cuts, scrapes yuk. So I ordered some shaving oil and tried again, success. So we had the answer, but the shaving oil, by volume, was nearly as expensive as printer ink. Then the time came, on a trip, no shaving oil, all I could get late night in Leeds was some Almond Oil, by volume it was 100x cheaper than the shaving oil. That’s what I’ve been using ever since. My skin is great and there are a few tips to it, but it’s pretty simple. These days I use the Now Foods Almond oil, it’s $7.99 and a bottle can last 1.5 years. Seriously.

Wet your face with warm water, rub vigorously, don’t dry. Pour maybe 6x drops of Almond oil onto your palm, spread by rubbing palms together, rub face vigorously again and leave. Either wash off you hands or just rub them until dry. Shave as normal, regularly washing out the blade. Do us all a favor, don’t leave the tap/faucett running between rinses.

Downside. There is one downside, using any oil over a long period of time will cause the sink to gradually clog. To avoid that, a couple of times a year just pour a small amount of sink deblocking liquid down the drain hole.

Upside.

  • It’s much more sustainable, heck you can even get bottles refilled in some places
  • It’s mostly natural, no nasty chemicals that you don’t know what they are/do and no pressurized canister to dispose of.
  • It’s fragrance free, you can use an atomizer after shave, which again is way more inexpensive
  • It’s cheap
  • Razor blades last much longer. If you use the multi-blade systems, wash the blades and blow vigorously to get the debris out from between the blades, otherwise this will reduce the life as the blade will back up with clogging. A blade will often last for 20-shaves.
  • Your face will be much softer. After shaving, don’t rub dry with a towel, simply take your hands and distribute any left over oil around your face, it’s ok, it’s not moisturizer, you are not becoming a metro!

Cuts. I can’t promise you you won’t cut yourself this way, but I’d bet you cut yourself less. I’m down to maybe once every couple of months and usually even when I do, it’s because I’m rushing. The best way to stop the bleeding is a combination old-school and new age solution. First get a small piece of toilet paper on your finger, no more than 2x the size of the cut; Second, wet the paper with a few drops of water; Third, drop a couple of drops of tea tree oil onto the center of the paper, just a couple; Fourth, hold the paper tightly against the skin for 60-seconds.

Yes, it will sting, but hey man-up you cut yourself shaving. Leave the paper on for as long as you can, but not long enough for the paper to become bone dry otherwise it will stick as the skin starts to heal.

So guys, time to mix up that shave routine, maybe you need to visit Mike but don’t be fooled, his multi-blade razors are anything but a dollar.

I should have probably started a twitter id for this, sh*t your Dad didn’t tell you…