Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Ramamritham infiltrates Al Qaeda

I think we have found the way to destroy Al Qaeda, or for that matter, any terrorist organisation. Don't send the Navy Seals or the National Security Guard or Special Forces. Send in Ramamritham instead !

This post has no place in what is ostensibly a business blog, but this writer could not miss the opportunity to ridicule Ramamritham anywhere and everywhere. So , with apologies , here's the story.

When the French forces recently retook much of Mali from terrorists, the press who followed them found a detailed letter and a number of documents in a building which was a base or Al Qaeda. The letter was to a thug and hoodlum called Moktar Belmoktar. It throws light on how Ramamritham has wormed his way even into Al Qaeda.

The letter was a "warning letter" to the said terrorist castigating him for not filing expense statements !!! It also was expressing displeasure at his skipping meetings which he was to attend !! He was also castigated for pricing below Head Office instructions - apparently for release of a kidnap victim he agreed to a price of 700,000 Euros when the going rate was  3 million. He was also censured for making a "business trip" to Libya without having taken approval in advance.

Moktar was also revealed to have complained that he was not being promoted and that somebody less qualified was instead given the job. He sulked for a while , refused to take phone calls and complained in his PDP ! Still not being promoted, he then quit and started his own rival murderous gang.

If Al Qaeda monsters have to file expense statements and take prior permission for foreign travel, we have nothing more to fear from them. They are doomed.

I shall make a few more suggestions to Ramamritham to further help him in his noble quest

  • Impose a detailed dress code on terrorists. They have to wear a tie between Monday and Thursday. Friday, they have to wear  T shirts to show that they are cool
  • Instruct them that not displaying their ID card while carrying out a terrorist attack is an offence and if found so, they will be sent back home
  • Display the pick up and drop schedule every day. Moktar has to catch Innova No S-47D. He will be dropped only at end of his road and not in front of his home
  • He can browse his personal email only between 12.41 and 13.04 every day . Facebook, Twitter, etc are banned. All Jihadist sites of Al Qaeda are open, but rival sites are banned
  • Moktar has not filled last month's self appraisal form, demonstrating that he has adhered to the values of Al Qaeda (with examples). Therefore he may be asked to report to the HR manager for a dressing down.

All hail Ramamritham, for helping defang Al Qaeda.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Business May 29th 2013: The WFMYou Really Wanna Be Here Edition

The Business knows that you are excited about this.  In preparation, we think it is absolutely in order that you all tune your internet radios to WFMU and shake your butt off or laugh your face off, depending on what they are serving up at the moment.  

This week, The Business welcomes Ken Freedman.

Ken Freedman and his only friend Andy Breckman are the hosts of Seven Second Delay on WFMU, the legendary freeform radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey. For the past twenty years, they've picked a "radio stunt" each week, then tried to execute it in just one hour of live airtime. They've chain-translated a Village Voice S&M personal add through 15 languages, then back into English, written the ultimate New York Times "Metropolitan Diary" column entry, then gotten it published, and failed more times than they can count. Every other week, they bring their special potion of anti-comedy trainwrecks to the UCB Theatre.  When they're not on-air, Freedman serves as theStation Manager of WFMU, the longest running and most renowned freeform radio station in the United States.

Oh that’s not all oh no, oh we got Clare O’Kane as well!  Oh yeah!

Clare O’Kane is an actress and comedian who currently lives in Oakland, California. She is a part of Sylvan Productions, a group of weirdos who produce wonderful comedy shows all over the San Francisco Bay Area. Clare has performed in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, as well as a few comedy festivals with fun, fake-sounding names like the Shits and Giggles Comedy Festival and the Too Much Funstival. You can also see her in the indie movie Bloodrape as a bass playing vampire from the nineteen nineties!

It would be foolish to miss this, so get there early cause we sell out.

Bring $5.  A high five is a sufficient tip.

BYOBurrito make sure the meat was listener supported. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Tax evasion is a crime. Tax avoidance is a .... ?

In the good old days, this was an easy cliche. Tax evasion (breaking the law) was a crime. Tax avoidance (minimising paying the tax within the law) was something you were duty bound to do. Whether you are an individual, company, whatever. Period. Now it isn't so clear cut an answer.  And that says something about our times.

Witness the case of Apple. It does aggressive tax planning (all within the law). It has a big subsidiary in Ireland and has done a deal with the government there for a low tax rate. It does not bring overseas profits into the US, because it is double taxed then; so it leaves all its overseas profits overseas. All very legitimate. And yet there has been a huge outcry and a Congressional hearing where Apple is accused of not paying "its fair share of taxes".

Similar accusations are levied on Amazon, Google and Starbucks in the UK and indeed in many other countries. Nowhere are the authorities claiming they broke the law. They are just angry that these companies pay a low or zero tax despite large businesses in those countries.

From a public's point of view, there is no difference between evasion and avoidance. The expectation is that all companies must pay lots of taxes irrespective of the law and facts. Equally all rich people must pay big amounts of tax even if the law does not require them to do so. But for each individual himself, it is perfectly OK to evade tax (breaking the law). Queer set of values.

Almost everybody in India breaks the law when it comes to taxes. And before you protest too much, please answer if you have disclosed your savings bank interest as income in your tax return and if you have done no cash transactions above Rs 10,000. The less said about professions like lawyers, doctors and the like, the better. The salaried class is one of the worst offenders - their salaries are caught by the taxman under the withholding tax regime. Everything else, in the eyes of the salaried man or woman is not to be disclosed as after all they are paying "lots of tax" on their salaries.

Why does this work like that. Why is it OK for us to evade tax, but not for others even to avoid it. Is it just pure jealousy against the rich ? Is it just one law for everybody else and one law for us ? What is going on ?

For corporates and rich individuals, there is an expectation of  social responsibility at play here. It is not enough to follow the law. It is now required to be seen as "being fair to society" everywhere. This is a woolly concept ; after all what is the concept of fair.  But each company has to make its own "contract" with society. The more successful you are, the more demanding the contract.

Social responsibility has gotten an altogether new meaning, A far more challenging meaning. Companies have to be seen as "good citizens, whatever that means. Notice that the public's definition of a good citizen is "I break the law, but you shall do over and above the law". "

Its a tough world out there.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Business May 22nd 2013: The Dynamic Duo Edition

THESE GUYS.  Our guests this week are two genuine articles.  

It’s Cory Loykasek and Donnie Divanian! 

Cory Loykasek is an SF based stand-up comedian using laid back rants to take a high-brow look at low-brow issues.  He is a regular on the For The People Comedy Tour and in 2012 performed in SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and Outside Lands.   Is Cory Funny?  A lot of cool people think so.  This one guy, Derrick, he was the JV quarterback at his division III high school, went to prom and everything, thinks Cory is ‘pretty fucking good.”

Donnie Divanian will beat you at tennis and then make you laugh like he didn’t just beat you at tennis. He has performed in SF Sketchfest and the SF Fringe Festival (receiving a best of the Fringe award). He is also in the comedy group We Are Nudes. In 2010 they appeared in the NY times.

Your regulars will be there mmmboping as well, Nato “Issac” Green, Sean “Taylor” Keane and Bucky “Zac” Sinister.  

Bring your $5 and get there early cause we sell out.

BYOBurrito and eat it.  Eat the whole damn thing.

Friday, 17 May 2013

NYRA's Financials: Turning the Corner

The latest financial results for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) show that, after years of financial travail and uncertainty, the nation’s leading racing circuit has achieved some much-needed financial stability. While nothing in horse racing is certain, that’s very good news for New York horsemen and the thousands of people they employ, for race fans, for the thoroughbred industry as a whole and, not least, for the State of New York.

NYRA’s audited financial report for the year ended December 31, 2012 (full report available here and summarized in the Daily Racing Form here) is the first annual NYRA financial report that includes a full year of “video lottery terminal” (a.k.a. slot machine) revenue, and the first produced under the auspices of the “new NYRA” legislation passed at New York Governor’s Andrew Cuomo’s urging last fall. Under that legislation, NYRA has become, as the notes to the financial statement point out, “a governmental entity engaged only in business-type activities.” As a result, the financials look somewhat different from what one would see for a for-profit corporation like Churchill Downs Inc. (whose most recent annual report is here). Still, the basics are fairly easy to discern.

The big news in the financial report is that, for the first time in many years, NYRA showed a “profit.” In fact, a healthy profit of $25.6 million. In government-accounting-speak, the report describes that as a “change in net position,” but for all practical purposes, it’s a cash profit. Lots of qualifications to that number, discussed below, but still, it’s a huge, and positive, change from prior years.

Two major reasons for the turnaround: first, a full year of VLT revenues. NYRA gets 3% of the Aqueduct casino’s net revenue to use for operating expenses, plus another 4% that goes into a separate fund for capital expenditures and maintenance of its facilities. For 2012, the 3% operating income from VLTs was approximately $20.2 million, while the VLT contribution to capital expense was another $26.9 million. Without the contributions from the VLTs, NYRA would have recorded an overall operating loss of $20.5 million instead of the reported $25.6 million profit. Still, compared to other “racino” tracks, NYRA is significantly less dependent on slot-machine income than the norm.

Second, in contrast to the nationwide trend in betting on thoroughbred racing, which was flat or slightly negative in 2012, NYRA’s handle increased significantly in 2012. All-sources handle on NYRA races was $2.2 billion, up from $1.96 billion in 2011. In addition, bettors at NYRA tracks and on its NYRA Rewards betting network wagered $294 million on races from other tracks, up 7% over the previous year. Overall, total handle reported by NYRA was $2.5 billion, up 12% from the previous year. Some of the increase is undoubtedly due to NYRA’s getting in five extra racing days in 2012, thanks to good weather, but that accounts for only a small part of the increase. Evidently NYRA’s racing product is still attractive to the bettors.

NYRA has also made some progress in increasing the amount of each dollar bet that it keeps for operating purposes and for funding purses. When simulcasting was introduced a couple of decades ago, tracks basically gave away the simulcast signal, often getting back as little as 3% of the amount bet at off-track locations., even though takeout was a total of 20%. For 2012, NYRA reports that it retained an average of 9.86% of total handle. To do that, considering that over 80% of the handle is generated from simulcast sources, shows that NYRA has been appropriately aggressive in dealing with simulcast operators.

Wagering on all US thoroughbred racing was essentially flat in 2012 as compared to 2011, increasing just 1%. In fact, without NYRA, total national handle would have declined. Of the $10.9 billion bet nationally, NYRA, with just 4.6% of the country’s race days, accounted for 20.1% of all betting. Despite the continuing decrease in the US foal crop, now down by nearly a third since its peak in the early years of this decade, there are still too many race days at too many tracks nationwide. The total number of US race days actually increased by 16, to 5,315, in 2012 as compared to the previous year. NYRA may be doing well with its racing product, but many smaller tracks cannot maintain their existing programs. Something has to give, though it may not be NYRA, where field size actually increased slightly in 2012, averaging just over eight horses per race.

The long-delayed advent of VLTs at Aqueduct, coupled with the increased handle, has been a boon for horsemen. Total purses at NYRA in 2012, with a full year of the VLT supplement, were $147.7 million, up 44% over 2011, which had included a couple of months of partial VLT operation. Those numbers make it almost worthwhile for an owner to run in New York. The old rule of thumb had been that the average horse earned about 50% of what it cost to keep the horse in training; with the new VLT-enhanced purses, it’s likely that the average horse can now earn somewhere around 80% of its training cost. That means a lot more horses can break even or turn a profit, and the losses from the rest won’t be as big as they used to be. A huge collective sigh of relief from horse owners.

Returning to the NYRA financials, while NYRA’s operating expenses increased by 18.4%, to $339.2 million, most of that increase reflects the VLT-enhanced increase in purses, which was offset dollar for dollar by VLT revenues. NYRA appeared to do fairly well at controlling its actual non-purse operating expense, holding employee compensation, benefits and retiree expenses essentially flat. The only major expense increase was in “facility operating costs,” which included nearly $3 million in legal costs related to the infamous Pick Six takeout scandal, $1.1 million to the state for incorrect sales tax payments on program sales, and $1.2 million for badly needed new marketing initiatives.

On the capital-expense side, NYRA spent $1.8 million toward a master development plan for Saratoga (a process that’s still ongoing), $734,000 for “patron area improvements” at Aqueduct and another $428,000 for similar front-side work at Belmont, plus $1 million to install wi-fi networks at all three tracks. There was significant spending on the Belmont backstretch, including $1.3 million to install concrete wash pads at the barns, as required by environmental laws, and another $1.2 million for fixing and upgrading the Belmont barns. Still lots more to do, including new dorms for backstretch workers at both Belmont and Saratoga, but it’s a start.

In the wake of its emergence from bankruptcy in 2009, NYRA had borrowed $25 million from casino operator Genting, to help pay operating costs until the VLTs began generating revenue. With a full year of VLT operation in 2012, NYRA was able to pay back $7.9 million of that loan, with the balance expected to be paid in full by mid-2014.

A danger signal in the financial report concerns the state of NYRA’s labor relations. Half of NYRA’s employees are covered by 25 different union collective bargaining agreements, of which 10 had expired as of the end of 2012 and more are expiring in 2013. A strike by, say, the 16 active members of the assistant starters’ union could quickly cripple operations. NYRA has set aside funds for retroactive wage and benefit increases that might need to be paid retroactively under new contracts, but uncertainty still remains.

Similarly, the precarious financial position of various OTB operations in New York State raises concerns. Suffolk OTB owed NYRA some $3 million when the OTB filed its most recent bankruptcy petition, money that NYRA is unlikely ever to see. The sensible solution to New York’s OTB wars would be to bring all the remaining OTB operations under NYRA, but, given the patronage and political forces behind the various regional OTBs, that’s likely to occur around the same time that we have flying-pig races at Belmont.

Still, despite the uncertainties, the 2012 financial report offers a glance at what could be a relatively serene future at NYRA, or at least a future in which the financial building blocks are in place, and the soon-to-come new management may be able to move away from crisis-reaction mode, the general state of things over the past decade, and focus on improving the racing experience for fans and horsemen alike.

The economics of spot fixing

Yeah Yeah, I am that sort of a nerd. While much of India is agog with the spot fixing scandal that broke yesterday, this blogger ruminates on the economics of it. Yes, he is a weirdo !

Having got that out of the way, a few words on the scandal, for the 3 million non Indian readers this blog gets :)  There is a nonsensical game (anybody who suggests the word cricket in this connection will be personally bashed up by me) in which there is a cash machine called the Indian Premier League. Yesterday three players were caught, allegedly  hand in glove with bookies, manipulating results. That's all you really need to know.

What is baffling me is the economics of it. There are all sorts of reports, but I think it is safe to say that at least Rs 20 lakhs (some $40,000) was allegedly paid to the players to give away a minimum number of runs in an over. Let us say, for this to be profitable to the crooks who are betting on it, they must wager at least an equivalent amount at odds of say 5:1, otherwise its not worth it.  For this sort of betting to be accepted by the bookies and to remain valid, there must have been others betting at least 5 times this amount. So all in all some Rs 1.2 crores ($ Quarter a million) must have been bet.

All this simply on one over !!!!  An over, for the uninitiated, is of 6 balls and takes 3 minutes or so to complete. The way this scam seemed to have operated, there was about 2 or 3 minutes notice to the crooks that it was going to be fixed in that over.

What I want to know is who are these blokes who are prepared to gamble quarter a million dollars in 3 minutes on something as arcane as the number of runs given away in an over in an inconsequential match. And there are 40 such overs in one match and there are some 70 or so matches. The arithmetic is mind boggling.

Who are these jokers ? What do they look like and which planet do they come from ?

PS. Just for the record, the GDP per capita of India is $1,492.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Everybody bashes the Taxman

If you have been following the news in the US, you might have noticed an almighty hullabaloo over the the IRS (their tax man) having targeted Tea Party and Conservative groups. Much hot air and righteous indignation is being spouted and Obama has fired the IRS chief yesterday. Almost everybody on earth loves to bash the taxman (rightfully so !) and this is all good fun.

Except that I believe that in this case the bashing is wrong. Or at least much exaggerated.

What happened is this. The IRS admits that it subjected groups which bore the name tea party, or patriot to extra scrutiny. The fact that such groups are exclusively Republican and that the President is a Democrat seems to indicate political targeting. That is, of course, against the law. Hence all this noise.

But why did the IRS do this - after all, they are not fools. If you try and answer this question, a different picture emerges.

The problem all started with, in my view,  the appalling judgement by the US Supreme Court in the Citizens United case in 2010. In layman terms the Supreme Court decided that organisations were people and had the same right of free speech as you and me. Therefore there could be no curbs on their political activities and donations.

Overnight, all sorts of action groups sprung up and the money started being being poured into US elections of all kinds.  Many of these outfits do not want to disclose who really gives them money. The way to achieve this is to register as a social welfare organisation under the tax code which then grants you tax exempt status - something called Sec 501(c)(4) exemption !! You are not prohibited then from indulging in political activity - its just that the primary activity has to be social welfare in nature. The main purpose of these groups is not to avoid tax (for they do not really seek to make a profit). The primary purpose is to avoid disclosing who is giving all the money.

It is probably a safe bet to say that the majority of these groups (Republican or Democrat) have zero interest in social welfare and are primarily there for  political activity.

From 2010 to 2012, the number of such organisations doubled to some 3400. A large number of them were "tea party" or "patriots". Do you really expect the IRS to sit tight and watch all this. After all, it is their job to check whether these outfits really were primarily involved in social welfare. 

The IRS did not prosecute them or withdraw their status. All they did , in true Ramamrtiham style, is to harass them with lengthy requests for information, do audit reviews, delay decisions on their applications and commence painstaking procedures. In this my sympathies are entirely with the said groups as we all know what the incredible capabilities of Ramamritham are.

The real culprit is the political donations sloshing around consequent to that awful Supreme Court verdict.  In true US politics style, this will not be addressed - instead the IRS will be hauled over coals. Yuk !

I never thought I would ever write a post in defence of Ramamritham, but there you go ... !

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Business May 15th, 2013: The “HOBO YOU DIDN’T” Edition

We got our bindles tied to our sticks and we are ready for some rail splitting action!  This week’s guests are finer than a pot of Mulligan stew served by a hot lil bo-ette biscuit shooter.

We are tickled to welcome Jeff Seal, Crowned the Hobo Clown King in '86, '87 and '89.  He is an accomplished comic and clown, and a real delight.  

We are also pleased to have the ferociously funny Casey Ley!

Casey's comedy has been seen in festivals such as SFSketchfest, Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, OR and the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin, TX. He is the host and creator of the popular monthly stand-up show "This Feels Wrong" and a weekly comedy game show called "Mayhem Trivia." He's been featured on NPR and was voted the Bay Area's best comic by readers of SF Weekly in 2012

Also, a San Francisco favorite who has appeared on Last Comic Standing, The Late Late Show and in SF Sketchfest, Michael Meehan!

Michael is a self-taught comic, painter and sculptor. His art is forged from salvaged materials and a sense of the absurd.

Plus all your regulars, Bucky “Bindlesticks” Sinister, Nato “Paint Your Wagon” Green, Sean “Stack of Bones” Keane and Caitlin “Gandy Stiff” Gill.  

Grab $5 from your poke and get there early, we sell out!

BYOBurrito for your bazoo. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

On graduation day, I was totally like:

This one was definitely worth a re-post in honor of graduation.
How I feel about the other partners:

How I feel about most of my boyfriends female classmates:

(exceptions, you know who you are)

Monday, 6 May 2013

Thou shall be subsidised whether you want it or not

The law is an ass. Governments are a bigger ass. Ramamritham is the chief ass. But even by those standards this takes the cake.

Those familiar with India knows that this poor country indulges in wasteful expenditure of the worst sort. Free colour TVs, grinders, etc have made the news. But the criminal, inexcusable and worst sort of government waste is the subsidy on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). If there was a word stronger than criminal, I would use it.

LPG  is supplied to all and sundry at a subsidy. It is sold at roughly half the cost - the government is supposed to pay the balance half to the oil companies , but it does so as and when it feels like it, or not at all. It is actually quite difficult to estimate how much the total subsidy is as the government hides this in different pockets but my estimate is that this monstrosity costs us some Rs 30,000 crores.

The really poor don't use any cooking fuel at all - maybe firewood. The poor use kerosene. Only the relatively rich use LPG. Its actually the middle class which is pocketing all this money.

The middle class moans about the cost of cooking gas . And yet you only have to go 1 mile near T Nagar and the gold shops in Chennai to see the amount of money the middle class has. The total "subsidy" for a  year that you can now get is Rs 3600 or so per family. Are you telling me that the middle class household cannot afford to pay Rs 3600 more per year for cooking their food. This is the same middle class which is snapping up the newest model of smartphones every year.  Its a complete farce.

The impact overall of this organised stealing is simply awful. India has made no investments at all in piped gas supply. LPG cylinders are  still being trucked all over the country. There is zero interest in any alternate fuels.  A whole bureaucracy has evolved around oil companies, agencies, transporters etc. Try getting a new cooking gas connection now - its possibly easier to learn quantum mechanics.  If you wish to do a case study on how not to treat a consumer, all you have to do is stand near a gas agency for an hour and witness the tales of woe of the people coming there.

Actually, raising the price of cooking gas cylinder by Rs 1000 per cylinder might be a good idea - it will cause Rajalakshmi to reduce her girth ! Eating less food, especially by the middle class, is a desirable social goal :)

The problem is that there is really no other choice. Private gas companies do offer unsubsidised cooking gas without all the contortions, but they are small scale and unreliable. Even then, quite a few consumers have opted to go there, simply because of the impossibility of handling Ramamritham's requirements.

Being a contentious citizen (!!!), this blogger went to his agency and asked not to be given a subsidy. He was willing to pay the full price. He was promptly told that this was not possible and he has no option but to take the subsidised price.

What sort of a place is this where a consumer offers to pay more and the seller refuses. If ever proof was needed that governments, and Ramamrithams, are an ass ..........

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Business May 8th, 2013: The Imaginary Edition

“To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything- plus RADIO!” Albert Einstein (and The Business).

This week, The Business makes believe with the Imaginary Radio team, Drennon Davis and Nick Stargu!

From his elaborate characters and sketches, to his provocative songs and animation, Drennon has made a name for himself as one of the most innovative minds in today’s comedy scene. His live performances of the Imaginary Radio Program combine live music and beat-boxing with one-man sketches into a show that the Los Angeles Comedy Bureau writes "not only lives up to its name, but exceeds expectation in what you could possibly think it is."
Nick Stargu is DJ REAL, a San Francisco-based alternative musical comedy act. Performing all original songs, complete with costume changes, bad dance moves, and interactive multimedia, DJ REAL’s live act has been likened to the Talking Heads, The Residents, and Steve Martin. With a wide range of influences, DJ REAL’s songs vary from hip-hop, to folk, to the bizarre.

They are not to be missed.  NEVER MISS THE BUSINESS.

Be early. We sell out.

Your regulars will also be there, “Make Believe” Sinister, Sean “Dreame” and Caitlin “You can’t tell me I can’t fly now get out of my way I’m jumping!” Gill.

$5.  Always cheaper than Iron Man and always in 3D.

BYOBurrito- your imagination needs brain food.