Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 18th, 2010

Business Groups Delay Rule That Gives Shareholders More Say

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Businesses consider shareholders a nuisance. The professional managers ignore shareholders as much as they can—much like elected officials ignore the public will—and thus both businesses and governments love secrecy: don’t let the owners/voters know what we’re doing—because they would not like it.

Marian Wang reports for ProPublica:

Business groups and financial regulators are going head-to-head in court over a rule adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission that would give shareholders more say in a company’s leadership. Shareholders who were disappointed that such a rule was omitted from this year’s financial reform law scored a victory in August when the SEC voted to adopt what’s known as a proxy access rule.

But any celebration on the part of investor groups may have been premature. After the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable – two of the largest business trade groups – fought to overturn the SEC’s new rule, the SEC agreed this week to put the new rule on hold while awaiting a court ruling on the matter.

As we noted at the time of the rulemaking, the proxy access rule gave shareholders more power to nominate directors to the board of publicly traded companies by requiring companies to include outside candidates on the company’s corporate ballots, or proxy materials. Shareholders currently have to mail out separate ballots to nominate their own candidates, and that takes more time, effort, and expense. (To be eligible to nominate a director, a shareholder or a group of shareholders must own at least 3 percent of the company’s stock and have held the shares for at least three years.)

Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt told us after the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill that proxy access was the most important omission from the bill because “as the system has been structured, shareholders have no say in the management of the company except in very, very unusual circumstances.”

Investor groups seem to agree. The Council of Institutional Investors called the Chamber and the Business Roundtable’s lawsuit “an assault on a fundamental shareholder right,” and said it planned to file a legal brief in support of the rule [PDF].

The Chamber of Commerce, however, has argued that the rule gives “special interests the ability to hold the board hostage on narrow issues at the expense of other shareholders.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 3:21 pm

Where do your taxes go?

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Mistermix at Balloon-Juice has an interesting post:

The taxpayer receipt has been making the rounds of blogs this week. The example used in the white paper shows that most of the taxes for someone earning the US median income goes to Medicare and Social Security.

That’s true, but it’s interesting to play around with the do-it-yourself version and use the mean family income (instead of the median personal income). As income goes up, the percentage of income that goes to federal income tax versus FICA goes up, which makes entitlements a smaller piece of the pie. And as entitlements get smaller, the amount allotted to defense and debt get bigger.

For someone making the mean household income of around $60K, filing as married with one child, around $3,000 of total tax burden goes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Almost as much ($2,900) goes to military and police, and $500 goes to debt service. I wonder how the average American is going to react to that.

(Here’s a big image of the whole calculation, and here’s the paycheck calculator that I used.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Excellent mystery-writer discovery

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The Eldest has introduced me to James Patrick Hunt by checking out Bridger, one of his works, at the Baltimore County Public Library Towson Branch—which, BTW, uses RFID chips in their books so you can check out an entire batch simultaneously by stacking them on the reader: wonderful! (though I understand it’s a slippery slope and soon babies will be implanted with chips that control their thoughts). Bridger reminds me a lot of Elmore Leonard generally, and Stick in particular. Highly recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 12:18 pm

Obama and our Constitutional rights

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Bottom line, Obama opposes Constituional rights—in practice, that is, not in speeches and particularly not when campaigning. But when it comes time to recognize Constitutional rights, he’s first in line to beat them down. He seems to want dictatorial powers. Adam Liptak reports in the NY Times:

Abdullah al-Kidd, born in Kansas and once a star running back at the University of Idaho, spent 16 days in federal detention in three states in 2003, sometimes naked and sometimes shackled hand and foot, but was never charged with a crime.On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether he may sue John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, for what Mr. Kidd contends was an unconstitutional use of a law meant to hold “material witnesses.” Mr. Kidd says the law was used as a pretext for detaining him because he was suspected of terrorist activities.

The material witness law is typically used to hold people who have information about crimes committed by others when there is reason to think they would otherwise not appear at trial to give testimony. Critics say the Bush administration radically reinterpreted the law after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, using it as a preventive-detention tool.

Laws allowing the preventive detention of suspected terrorists are common in Europe. The United States does not have such a law, but Mr. Kidd contends that a policy set by Mr. Ashcroft allowed federal prosecutors to use the material witness law to the same end.

Mr. Kidd, who described himself in a 2004 interview as “anti-bin Laden, anti-Taliban, anti-suicide bombing, anti-terrorism,” was never called to testify as a witness.

The Obama administration had urged the justices to reverse a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, that had allowed Mr. Kidd’s lawsuit to proceed. “If permitted to stand,” Acting Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal wrote, “the decision below would seriously limit the circumstances in which prosecutors could invoke the material witness statute without fear of personal liability.”  [That is, if allowed to stand, prosecutors would labor under the terrible burden of obeying the law and respecting the Constitution, an eventuality so horrible to the Obama Administration that it will go to any lengths to avoid that. – LG]

Mr. Kidd, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, said the appeals court’s ruling was straightforward and correct. Mr. Ashcroft’s “deliberate decision to authorize the pretextual arrest of witnesses was clearly unconstitutional,” Mr. Kidd’s lawyers told the justices.

Mr. Kidd, who was known as Lavoni T. Kidd in 1995 when he led the University of Idaho football team, the Vandals, in rushing, was on his way to Saudi Arabia to work on a doctorate in Islamic studies in March 2003 when he was arrested and handcuffed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams of the Federal District Court in Boise, Idaho, authorized the arrest, based on an affidavit from Special Agent Scott Mace of the F.B.I. “Kidd is scheduled to take a one-way, first-class flight (costing approximately $5,000),” the affidavit said.

That statement was false: the ticket was for a round trip, in coach, costing $1,700. [Another drawback for the Obama Administration: Having law enforcement officials have to restrict themselves to true statements instead of lying to get what they want. – LG]

In the 2004 interview, Mr. Kidd said he did not understand why someone held as a mere witness should be subjected to harsh treatment.

“I was made to sit in a small cell for hours and hours and hours, buck naked,” he said. “I was treated worse than murderers.”

Justice Elena Kagan disqualified herself from the case because she had worked on it when she was United States solicitor general.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 10:27 am

Modern toy platforms

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The grandsons were playing with tops, a toy I remember from my own childhood. Our tops, however, were just wooden objects with iron tips: you wrapped a string around them, threw them down, and they spun. Then you did it again. Of somewhat limited interest, but much better than, say, mowing the lawn.

Tops today—like other toys—are part of an overall entertainment platform built around the object. The tops differ (different colors, different spinning tips, which are interchangeable so that you can customize your top), and each variety has a backstory that is related in a TV series and in comic books. Each top, instead of being a singular toy, is a participant in a little top universe with on-going dramas, thus allowing the child to play in a richer imagined context.

Toys have grown more far-reaching and complex, it seems. The joys of spinning the top are still present (with launchers much easier to use than the wrapped-string method), but drama has been added.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 7:09 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting auto-insurance option

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The Eldest, rather than having her auto-insurance rates based on coarse measures (sex, age, where you live, your driving record, etc.) took advantage of a program/device offered by her insurance company. The device installed in the car tracks several indicators, which in turn determine your insurance rates. The indicators include: total mileage driven, mileage driven between 12:00m and 4:00am, and the number of “abrupt stops.” If you do brake too hard, the device emits a triple beep, so you quickly learn how fast you can decelerate.

Pretty clever and seems fair. More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2010 at 7:02 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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