Bad for business: Laws that bully LGBT

I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.

For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference!  The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…

Saturday Night Live suggests giving businesses helpful signs to show that they embrace the new law

Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.

Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!

This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).

Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distanancing themselves.

Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).

Yea, brother! Are you a straight, God-faring Christian?

Indiana Governor Mike Spence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business

Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has cancelled a tour stop in Indianopolis. Salesforce.com is cancelling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.

Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:

Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live. 

To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.

Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!

Life in the Aquarium: Why I am Agnostic

Peter is a good friend and a former business colleague. Having lived in Honolulu Hawaii for 2 decades, he has acquired a license to wear the floral print shirt in this photo.

This week, Peter posted this missive to his Facebook page:

Peter Kay-a

 

Taking the atheist position that there is no God because there is no evidence is like being a fish in an aquarium. You state there is no such thing as an aquarium builder because you, as the fish, cannot find evidence of the builder. You, as the fish, insist that the aquarium just popped into existence on its own for no reason whatsoever. Yes, it’s ridiculous; being an atheist, that is.

 

My response to Peter:

The aquarium analogy is good, Peter. Point made…

I suspect that most atheists—or at least a significant fraction, like me—are more accurately agnostic. That is, we don’t deny that there is design, creativity or purpose to the universe (and to our existence), but we acknowledge that it is beyond our senses—and quite probably our comprehension—to fathom it from within our fish bowl. More importantly, atheists and agnostics vehemently reject scripture and institutional doctrine. These are human concoctions to explain the unexplainable—They are each self-anointing, pompous and righteous.

religious-symbols-squeezeAtheists and agnostics don’t buy into a 6,000 year old universe, a 6 day creation, the idea that man is created in the image of God, and especially, that a conscious god wishes for us to worship him and save others. Finally, we attribute much of the horror on earth to religion: Throughout recorded history, the very worst acts of mankind have been prosecuted in the name of God. Individuals of faith are the least likely to be tolerant and inclusive.

Further, we see that religion has been the enemy of science, technology and democracy and personal liberty. In my opinion, of all the acts committed in ‘His’ name, only music, art and architecture have beauty. Clearly, whatever is the purpose of our design and creation, man has completely screwed up the interpretation and fulfillment of his religious obligation.

That said, I practice the religion of my parents, and I employ it to mark life’s events. It connects me to a people and a community. I even strive to study its codes of conduct. There is no contradiction in doing so. I recognize that the wisdom of eons can be a greater force for good than my limited experience. But I do so through the lens of scientific reasoning, an agnostic psyche, and a willingness to edit sections that undermine domestic tranquility.

Related

Lights Out Bitcasa; Amazon “Unlimited Everything” arrives

bitcasa-sIt’s been a rocky 2 years with Bitcasa…like a very bad dream. The company still exists, but Infinite Drive was just a pipe dream. More than just poorly executed—It was a promise replaced by lies. Bait-and-switch, plain and simple.

For Bitcasa, a future filled with missteps and mistakes was foreshadowed when someone got the incredibly uninspired idea to give founder Tony Gauda the heave ho. He was replaced by Brian Tapitch, who promises to return calls, but has difficulty with that effort if the caller dares to mention Tony.

amazon-cloud-driveBut Infinite Storage fans have a new sun dawning. Amazon is entering the “infinite” game with a knockout price on Amazon Cloud Drive. Users can squirrel away unlimited photos and videos for an absurdly low $2/month, or pack rats like me can choose Unlimited Everything for just $5 a month. Think of it as Infinite Storage redoux! I signed up for a 3 month free trial and you should too.

When the trial ends, $60/year covers truly unlimited personal storage. This is not a kitchen sink approach. Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t come with the collaborative features that form the backbone of Dropbox or Google Drive. They assume that you have your own apps and tools. Unlimited Everything is for users who want drive access from everywhere and rock solid data backup.

I had high hopes with Bitcasa, because their clever use of convergent encryption buttressed their radical business model. I got it wrong that first time, but a rudimentary understanding of economics and shareholder politics suggests that Amazon is less likely to deceive their users and more likely to test services constantly.

At just $5 per moth, Amazon’s infinite storage is almost as low as Bitcasa’s special to beta users and considerably less than what that they promised, but failed to deliver.

Whoops! Did I leave out the sordid details? Wild Ducks can catch up here:

Meeting Andreas Antonopoulos

This isn’t really a post, it’s more of a boast… If you don’t know the name Andreas M. Antonopoulos, you don’t know Bitcoin. Since Satoshi prefers to remain invisible,* Andreas is the defacto face of Bitcoin.

I had the good fortune to meet Andreas at the MIT Bitcoin Expo this month. That chance meeting in the outer lobby of building 26-100 led to his live Keynote address at The Bitcoin Event at LaGuardia, a workshop in New York organized by CRYPSA and CUNY (City University of New York).

Ellery & Andreas-02

The Bitcoin Event at LaGuardia

Ellery & Andreas-01

MIT Bitcoin Expo 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I was about to say that Satoshi prefers to remain underground, but that would imply that he is guilty of something or on the run. Far from it. He is a father of invention!

Booya! Hong Kong seeks Bitcoin ban

Hong Kong flagIn February, Hong Kong lawmakers called on authorities to ban Bitcoin after more than 25 investors were duped in a Bitcoin scam. Reuters reports that they may have been fleeced of [US] $387 million. That’s quite a scam—Bernie Madoff would be proud!

Coming from Hong Kong legislators, the request to ban a monetary instrument—rather than enhance security and education—is a bit surprising. After all, Hong Kong is a uniquely progressive society. Their dollar is not issued, printed or backed by the government (not the under the British mandate and not even under Chinese unification). Rather, it is issued and backed by 3 commercial banks, each one abiding by a strict reserve policy.

Ban, baby Ban

Effective tonight, stray cats may no longer mate without a permit from the population council

Stray cats must obtain a city permit before mating

I love government bans! —especially edicts that try to prevent feral cats from mating or water from seeking its own level! It arguably produces a best-case event for popularizing a new technology, film, web-site, trend or behavior.

Sure, Bitcoin will be exploited by criminals — perhaps even at 5% of the rate that crooks exploit cash, checks or credit cards. I wonder if Hong Kong has banned those instruments?

Bitcoin is based on an elegant technology that is sometimes difficult to explain. But the results are easily understood. Whether you believe Bitcoin to be a currency, a threat to national sovereignty or a tool for criminals, it is simply a very inexpensive, efficient, quick and secure method of moving value from one party to another. That’s really all there is to it.

Bitcoin-08Of course, Bitcoin is new and it is decentralized. This means that there are a few things to be learned before common practices (and banking-analogous practices) can be made simple and safe for everyone. The Cryptocurrency Standards Association is working on it and so are a great many other programmers & organizations. Don’t bet against it! Bitcoin and the blockchain are one of those new-paradigm technologies that adds value, spreads quickly and is resistant to edict. In the beginning, Ebay, Google AdWords and hyperlinks seemed too difficult to be useful to the masses. It’s no different with Bitcoin. Adoption, tools, safety protocols and utter simplicity will make it a no brainer.

More importantly, Bitcoin does not present a threat to governments or nations, even if it begins to replace currency. (Many scholars think that this won’t happen). Governments can still tax citizens, float bonds, audit transactions, wage war and arrest bad guys — just as they did before and during the era of treasuries and central banks.

A major benefit of Bitcoin (at the very least) will add TENS of Billions of dollars to the economy. And not just supply-side dollars, but real skills and labor. That’s because Bitcoin saves 2~4% on most financial transactions. No fee for credit cards, wire transfers, checks and even commercial letters of credit. That’s why SWIFT is evaluating a switch to Bitcoin and it is why IBM is exploring the blockchain to move commercial funds all over the globe.

It doesn’t stop there. As Bitcoin adoption grows (even if only for debit transactions), a series of reactions will gradually follow. Peek with me into the future landscape of Bitcoin adoption. It’s easy to imagine. The vision is positive…What do you think?

• Related: Ellery’s articles about Bitcoin
Ellery is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Stellar & Ripple: Pretender to Bitcoin throne?

You might know that I am a board member and co-chairperson of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. (I write this Blog under a pen name). The organization is brand neutral. That is, we don’t endorse or favor one particular coin over another. Think of CRYPSA standards as the security paper onto which money is printed. The paper can be used for Dollars, Yen and Zlotties. If it prevents counterfeiting then any currency can benefit. Like security paper, the standards we create and the safe practices we promote apply equally to all cryptocurrencies.

But, as with any user network, recognition, adoption and gravitas count! It’s no secret that Bitcoin is the elephant in the room. It is by far the biggest, baddest and most reported new age coin by any yardstick.

ripple_by_Mo

Dollars & cents? Ripple Labs unit = XRP

But Bitcoin has a problem—at least that’s what fifty start up companies want us to believe. The code that validates transactions (also used to mine coins) is transaction bound and hampered by original design. Moreover, alt coin entrepreneurs make a persuasive case for new features that more fully exploit the block chain potential.

Wild Ducks may know of Litecoin, Feathercoin, Dogecoin and Mastercoin, but there are even newer coins attracting the eyes of the crypto and investment community. If you have your ear to the ground, the smart money seems to be betting on digital currency coined by Stellar and by Ripple Labs. The rival companies share an eclectic and storied founder and they are both headquartered in San Francisco.

The New York Observer offers an illustrated history and analysis of the two pretenders in the novel-like style of Wired Magazine. They call it The Race to Replace Bitcoin.

Wow! In my humble opinion, this is a great article! I will assume that you have perused it. Very little recap here—just a Wild Duck commentary and analysis…

Ripple-1Ripple and Stellar co-founder Jed McCaleb has a history. He founded eDonkey, a Napster-like service of the early p2p era and Mt. Gox, the big Bitcoin exchange that collapsed in a spectacular and still-mysterious failure. Another co-founder, Sam Yagan also survived eDonkey and OK Cupid. He is now CEO of dating behemoth, Match.com.

Stelar-1aI know some of the other players, but hadn’t realized that Ripple Labs was making waves (pun intended). McCaleb’s newer venture, Stellar, claims to represent more than just a coin. It is a monetary ecosystem that inter-operates across currencies and boundaries. (Isn’t that what Bitcoin does? It seems that I have a lot to learn)…

I have less programming expertise than these geniuses, and possible less cryptography expertise. But I can outdistance their collective chops on macro economics.

Wild Duck Analysis

It is exceedingly unlikely that any venture will create the next cryptocurrency by design, unless the new coin is directly tied to and sanctioned by a believable and uncontested legacy of Bitcoin prime. In effect, a new coin must be a fork of the original code or at least a proper heir with blood lines and public trust.

Ripple Labs and Stellar have a very bright team. I don’t doubt the need to improve on the Bitcoin protocol, perhaps even with a wholly new technical approach. But the string of failures in McCaleb’s background, the mystery surrounding the first 1.5 billion STRs, and the daffy distribution scheme with Facebook are almost deal killers. This needn’t be an epitaph. There is a path to righteousness…

Cryptocurrency is already hard for the public to understand and harder to accept. For this reason, an heir to Bitcoin needs five things to succeed:

  1. Direct ties to the ownership of all original BTC
  2. Sanctioned by top Bitcoin developers AND blessed by Satoshi in a signed email
  3. The coin must be ZERO growth. It must never fall prey to inflationary economics. It accommodates a growing base and users and transactions by slicing the pie thinner (or ‘mining’ from a capped pool)—never by creating coins out of thin air.
  4. Source code that is transparent, open and without proprietary interests.
  5. A unshakeable commitment to continued decentralization and p2p operation with no mandatory reporting of anything (identities, or anything about transaction beyond date, pseudo-anonymous wallet ID and amount). In short, there must be no authority and no requisite bookkeeping beyond the open and distributed block chain.

There you have it: Our unofficial CRYPSA manifesto of what it takes to dethrone Bitcoin. In short, a successful replacement must be no less than Bitcoin 2. It elevates Bitcoin to the status of emeritus, because it respects the equity of early adopters (and without watering down with ‘newly created shares’)—and it must provably disavow any potential for inflation or manipulation.

Ellery Davies is a founder and board member of CRYPSA. He is also chief editor at AWildDuck.com.

Complicated tax return? Thank TurboTax

Actually, there are two ways in which TurboTax complicates the process of filing your taxes. One is downright nefarious—and the other, just plain stupid.   Continue below cartoon…

Tax Complexity-1

♦ The Nefarious

It’s one thing for a company that builds a business on tax simplification to make their own product more complex. (That’s the topic of the next section, below). But, it’s a completely different animal when a company that helps taxpayers to navigate an unnecessarily complex tax code fakes a grassroots letter writing campaign to covertly lobby that same government to maintain complexity, maintain fees for filing, and even disguises their lobbying as a grassroots effort of everyday citizens.

Read about and weep. It is nothing less than a mob-inspired, profit strategy. This is not a faux pas. It is a stick-it-in your eye, anti-consumer behavior without precedent! Intuit sought to preserve their niche of simplifying your life by secretly pushing government to keep it complex and to require a knight-in-shining armor to unwinding the complexity.

♦ The Stupid & Greedy

Tax Complexity-2aThis year, TurboTax has effectively blocked prospective customers  from figuring out which TurboTax product suits their tax situation. Intuit has not only stripped TurboTax Deluxe of important filing returns. Their flagship product can no longer be used to electronically file Schedule D, for capital gains and losses; Schedule E, for rental real estate, royalties and distributions from partnerships; Schedule C, for profit and loss from a sole proprietorship business; or Schedule F, for farm income. This year, those who need to file a Schedule D or E must trade up to TurboTax Premier, while a Schedule C or F requires the even more expensive TurboTax Home & Business.

But wait! The highest end product sells for more than a hundred dollars. It is more suited to corporations, trusts and foundations. Don’t think that you need the many features of TurboTax Home & Business? No problem. Now, you can choose from a dozen filing form combinations. This not-quite à la carte approach virtually ensures that you will have no way of knowing which products to buy until after you prepare your taxes.

That decision can be blamed by on simple greed in the boardroom and a phalanx of idiots in the marketing department. WildDucks can Infer the rest from my letter to Intuit General Manager, Sasan Goodarzi.


Greetings, Mr. Goodarzi,

I don’t earn a lot, but I have my fingers in different things: Self employment income, dividends, royalties, K-1 trust loss, rental property, and deductions carried forward from past partnerships and business ventures.
I have used TurboTax Dexuxe + State since 1993. I want very much to continue using that product, even if the cost rises…

I wish that I had received your latest offer before purchasing my 2014 tax software.

  • Earlier this week, I walked into my local OfficeMax and was confronted with your new hyper-bifurcated product lineup. (A complex array of options. At least 3 times as many products as on your revised web site today!!).
  • I immediately realized that you were asking prospective customers to make a very complex purchase decision. I had no idea which product to buy.
  • I checked the comparison check list on the product display and discovered that the only way to ensure that I was covering all of my bases would be to purchase your most premium home and business product.

TurboTax DeluxeFor loyal users of TurboTax Deluxe, the cost jump is from $39 (discount price for with 1-state) to over $120. In my view, that’s outrageous.

And so I purchased HR Block Tax Deluxe 2014 + State for $22.49 after promo discount at Newegg.com.

I considered your previous offer of a one-time $25 rebate. For me, it seemed insulting. You were asking me to either make a VERY complex decision (one that I could only evaluate AFTER completing my tax returns), or pay $90 more and apply for a $25 rebate. What kind of offer is that? Not one that I would jump at.

TurboTax was once a premium product in a small field of competitors. Your newest offer is reasonable, but it is simply too late! My advice for next time: Simply raise the price, if you feel that the competitive marketplace can sustain the cost bump. For the past 20 years, the discount retail cost of TT deluxe + state (after coupons and store promo) has drifted downward from about $60 to $39. Sometimes, I can even get it for $29. It is reasonable to adjust the discounted cost upward to $49 or even $59 (equivalent MSRP = $84).

But instead, you chose a complex marketing option that mirrors the current problem with our tax code.  To fan the fire, news services are reporting that your company has secretly lobbied to maintain a complex tax code.

You are entitled to a price increase.  But you botched the execution. You lost a long time customer (and one who has purchased TurboTax for employees and partners).

~Ellery Davies
  Formerly, a faithful TurboTax customer