Friday, October 17, 2014

FBI Director Worried 1st, 4th Amendments Might Mean Something

The Director of the FBI expressed concern recently that technological advances might render practically meaningful the First Amendment's right to free assembly and the Fourth Amendment's right to freedom from unreasonable search.  Instead, it might be necessary to get a court order to snoop on U.S. citizens.  Poor G-man.

Incidentally, nothing in the tech interferes with government collection of metadata, only with the encrypted message contents.  Mapping networks of connected individuals is apparently still fair game for government agencies interested in snooping warrentlessly into the relationships of those presumed innocent.

On Fuel Prices, Taxes, and Profits

ExxonMobil's fuel tax map of the United States shows regional variation in tax policy:

The page's author presents a defense to the charge that oil companies are scamming government out of tax money: the government earns in taxes an order of magnitude more on each gallon refined, shipped, and sold in the United States than ExxonMobil earns in profit on the same gallons.

The defense is interesting, but I think it dodges the charge.  Those who accuse multinational oil companies of running a tax scam aren't focused on sales taxes imposed on locally-sold products, but the international business of companies that historically paid U.S. income taxes on income earned in foreign jurisdictions.  From the point of view of ExxonMobil, of course, the government collects not only 40 to 60 cents per gallon refined, shipped, and sold in the U.S. – but also 35% income tax on ExxonMobil's 5.5¢ profit per gallon.  From the perspective of ExxonMobil's detractors, what has that to do with ExxonMobil's 'right' to use U.S. resources to build and defend a global business empire from which it gathers income free of U.S. taxes?

It's an interesting situation that invites inquiry into local competitive conditions globally and examination of the practical effects of tax policy.  With the elimination of the double-Irish scheme, international tax planning will take another wave of innovation (and consultants in the area will make another fortune).  Is there a tax policy that will result in more tax collected and less resources wasted avoiding taxation?

Monday, October 13, 2014

American Capital: Profit From Hated Shares

In a new article at Seeking Alpha, I outline why American Capital Ltd.'s shares are in the crapper (compared to peers), what management plans to do about it, and what impact this will have on the company's resulting value.  Upshot: while ACAS remains hated, there's an opportunity.

The article is American Capital Ltd.: Loving The Hate.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

ISIS Explains Enslavement Policy

The Islamofascist organization sometimes known as ISIS has apparently published a position paper supporting its people-trafficking, which it describes as consistent with shariah.  The self-declared "Islamic state" previously admitted it peddled flesh for cash, but the position paper seems a propaganda step taken to defend its position against genuine Muslims reacting to seeing their religion employed in this manner.  Or maybe it's an advertisement to young males, unable to get dates back home.  The would-be caliphate doesn't strictly require females to serve domestic roles, though; they're also employed to oppress women in public in ways males might find hard to explain.

It'll be interesting to see what response results from these killers' formal announcement of their outrageous position.  Presumably nobody will now mistake their outlook for something less sinister.  Certainly the women who are hunting these misogynists with rifles have already gotten the message.

Apple's Oct. 17 China/India Launch: A Big Deal for Apple

On Friday, Apple's worldwide iPhone 6 (and "6 Plus") rollout progresses a bit further, as that's the date it reaches China and India.  The China rollout is a huge deal for Apple's quarter, and will illuminate Apple's future competing in China now that it's got mobile carrier partners and larger screen sizes.  For the full article on this, check it out at Seeking Alpha: "Apple's iPhone Launch: Predicting A Strong 2014 Holiday Quarter?"

One thing to look out for over the quarter will be news about Apple's payment processing network rollout.  Since it's limited to the iPhone 6 – other phones lack the security hardware that enables Apple to get "card-present" treatment from card issuers – the size of the user population and the scale of the profit to Apple won't be the metrics to watch.  Look for reports on ease-of-use, availability at merchants, and merchant efforts to promote the service (Apple may be using transaction processing fee reductions as a tool to grow the network – fee reductions that Apple may simply pass along to merchants after negotiating its own discounts from issuers).  A payment processing network that cuts incumbent processors out of the picture to provide security to merchants and fraud-protection to card-issuing banks has the potential to grow significantly over time, while reducing Apple's costs on every transaction consumers have with it as a merchant.  This move – predicted here in 2011plays to Apple's existing strengths while growing its vertical integration.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

If She's Arrested There Must Be Something To It, Right?

A woman found in possession of a spoon with SpaghettiOs sauce on it spent a month in jail after officers wrote a report that described the spoon as bearing "a residue" they alleged showed she'd used the spoon to prepare meth.  While incarcerated she was so worn down she considered taking a plea deal to be freed, despite that it would falsely have branded her for life as a felon drug user.

When the overloaded lab's test results came back it became evident the state had no case.  At least the prosecutors didn't bury the exculpatory evidence as occurred elsewhere, and the error was discovered while its victim was still alive to free.

Has our zeal to make it easy to arrest bad guys reached a point that nobody is safe from losing valuable rights – like the freedom to sleep at home – on a mere accusation?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Grand Jury: OK To Shoot Man For Buying Unloaded BB-gun at Wal-Mart

Today an Ohio grand jury "decided that the police officers were justified" when they killed Cincinnati resident John Crawford III when they found him shopping in a Wal-Mart, and trying to buy one of the unloaded BB-guns for sale lawfully at the store. (Video at link)

Sean Williams, the officer who shot Mr. Crasford while he was turned away and on a cell phone had previously killed a civilian in 2010.  In that incident Scott Brogli, a retired Master Sergeant, was shot dead at his apartment in front of his 17-year-old son.

Unlike the Brogli killing (which police stated involved a knife), Mr. Crawford was facing away from his shooter, was on a cell phone, and was holding an unloaded BB-gun when he was shot twice.

The other officer involved in the Crawford shooting, David Darkow, is already back at work.