Like Mom’s good fortune in skiing, here’s how Silicon Valley wealth grows

By Steve Butler | [email protected] | PUBLISHED: February 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: February 22, 2018 at 6:03 am My late mother’s single foray into the world of venture capitalism happened in 1957 when she invested $1,500 in a ski area before it had any lifts or trails. It was just an idea of a young 20-something guy who snow camped and tested snow conditions for two winters at what became Killington, a ski area in Vermont which is now the largest in New England. To offer some perspective, $1,500 was about half of what a Ford Country Squire station wagon sold for at the time. So here is how the system worked: Mom was in the “first round” which included some wealthy people from Connecticut but also included local people like Mom, a part-time registered nurse, who actually skied — local color, so to speak. Since the ski industry has historically been littered with the “carnage” of abandoned properties and serial bankruptcies, this was definitely a long-shot. Mom’s investment included a free season ticket to perpetuity, which meant that I could inherit it and even pass it on to one of my great grandchildren. Mom sold it every year for 30 years to the same person for $300 — which amounted to an annual dividend. More about Mom in a minute, but first the basics: To understand how Mom made out like a bandit years later, we need to review how venture capital and the “marked-to-market” concept come into play. First, all shares in a company are valued based on the sale price of the most recent sale of shares. A startup begins with perhaps two people who invest $150,000 from friends and family and start a business. Getting some traction, they are able to talk a venture capital company into investing $2 million in return for 20 percent of the company. The founders still own 80 percent, so if 20 percent sells for $2 million, the whole company is worth $10 million, right? The founders’ $150,000 Continue Reading

Hamill: How a cop trying to fill a quota turned into a potential civics lesson

Last Monday, I was driving with my son Liam, 15, along Bell Blvd. in Bayside, Queens, at about 5 p.m. Two traffic agents worked both sides of the avenue, writing tickets and generating revenue like bees gathering pollen for the City Hall hive. “Making their quotas,” I said. “What’s that mean?” Liam asked. “The city denies it, but every cop and traffic agent has to write a certain number of tickets every month to justify their jobs,” I said. “But they don’t lie about it, do they?” “Not usually,” I said. “But cops and traffic agents have been caught writing phony tickets to make quotas, sure.” “That’s messed up,” said my kid, who is eager to take driver’s ed next year. Two hours later, about 7 p.m., we drove toward the Long Island Expressway to a batting cage where Liam takes hitting lessons for his upcoming high school baseball tryouts. I drove south on 219th St., stopping for a red light at Northern Blvd. “Green,” my kid announced like my co-pilot when the light changed. He’s fastidious about driving rules, etiquette and safety because his aunt was killed by a drunken driver. He immediately fastens his seat belt whenever he gets in the car, and he rants about speeders. I crossed Northern Blvd. where 219th St. turns into Springfield Blvd. and cruised slowly one block to the corner of 46th Ave. and stopped at the stop sign. I stop at that red sign four or five times a week because I usually turn right to go to the gym with my kid. I saw the marked NYPD Bronco parked with its headlights off on 46th Ave., a familiar 111th Precinct ticket trap. Locals know most of the sly snares in this low-crime precinct where there were zero murders in 2014, one rape, 44 robberies, 66 felony assaults, 219 burglaries, 454 grand larcenies and 97 stolen cars — 881 major crimes in 365 days. For New York City, those Continue Reading

Civic Center: Don’t buy tickets from resellers

For most of us, going to a big show like Disney's The Lion King or The Book of Mormon at the Des Moines Civic Center is a once, maybe twice, a year experience.We hear a date, check with friends or family, and snoop around online to buy what we think is the best ticket for the price.But did you know Iowa has no law protecting consumers from those who try to get you to pay a lot more for tickets than you need to?And did you know that if you aren't careful, you can pay anywhere from 50 percent to 500 percent more for a ticket than its face value?Nationally, online ticket brokering has exploded in the past decade, pitting primary ticket sellers, performers and promoters against those who have milked billions in the secondary market and straight-up scammers who pawn off fake tickets online.Locally, enough Iowans have been duped that the folks at the Civic Center reached out to the Reader's Watchdog. They want to be more proactive about alerting the public ahead of some big shows coming after the first of the year.Simply put: The Civic Center wants you to know that unless you're going to for tickets, you are likely to get overcharged.Jeff Waldschmitt, manager of the Civic Center's ticket office, says problems associated with ticket resellers or scalpers have worsened in the past two years.Too many guests, he says, have discovered too late they paid too much.Or they may show up to an event only to learn others with legitimate tickets have the same seats.When unhappy customers realize what's happened, there's not much the Civic Center Ticketmaster — its authorized partner — can do."It's a very expensive learning experience," Waldschmitt says. How it worksNot sure how you are being duped?OK, let's take The Lion King, the Broadway hit that comes to Des Moines in April.Officially, tickets aren't even for sale yet at the Civic Center. But when they go on sale Dec. 8, they will be priced from around $25 to $137.50. (But that could be Continue Reading

What to do if you don’t get a Burning Man ticket

If you do not get a Burning Man ticket today, join the party.Tens of thousands of people will walk away Wednesday without one of the golden tickets to the world's largest bohemian desert campout/largest pop-up, outdoor art museum. This year's rendezvous takes place from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in the Black Rock Desert, about two hours north of Reno.The Burning Man main sale is expected to sell out lickety-split as usual, with approximately 30,000 $425 tickets and 10,000 $80 vehicle passes on the selling block. While there are far worse things than not getting a Burning Man ticket -- the plague, a hangnail and a piano falling on your head for starters -- we understand that some of you might be slightly distressed by your noon plan not working out.While we recommend doing something else with your life besides crying about a Burning Man ticket -- maybe build a free library, go volunteer for an assisted care living home or call your friend that you haven't spoken with in 10 years -- we can lend you a few tips on how to get your knickers out of a bunch, and calm down about that damn Burning Man ticket: 1. Work on a project Truly the most admirable way to get a ticket is to earn one. Burning Man gives out 26,000 face-value tickets to critical theme camps, art installation crews, mutant vehicle crews and other core Black Rock City infrastructure providers. In other words, you need to do something pretty damn awesome to get a ticket this way, though there are tons of channels. Help build a stunning sculpture, or perhaps volunteer your time to building the city itself. Upsides:- You become part of a family of creatives, and you get to see the fruits of your labor contribute to the event. Downsides: - This sale already passed... but you may find that your work will pay off and someone who has tickets might send some your way.- It does not always work out that there are enough tickets for everyone that has contributed to the project. Continue Reading

How aggressive lawyers, costly lawsuits and runaway medical bills make Detroit car insurance unaffordable

It seemed about as minor as auto accidents can get.A car moving less than 5 m.p.h. bumped into a U-Haul van on a Detroit street. The driver of the car didn't even bother to stop. And none of the three men in the truck initially voiced any complaints of injury, according to deposition testimony.One filed a police report to show U-Haul, and within days, callers claiming to be lawyers contacted all three urging doctor visits and legal claims.The U-Haul’s driver said he wasn’t hurt and hung up. A passenger also hung up on his caller, even after he was offered $600-$800 to see the caller's doctor and file a claim.But the second passenger got connected with a Southfield-based law firm and sued U-Haul’s insurance company, claiming more than $25,000 in medical expenses under Michigan's no-fault auto insurance system. Those charges included $9,900 for MRIs and $3,200 for a transportation company to shuttle him to appointments.A Wayne County judge dismissed the case last year, after the man didn't show up for independent medical examinations of his alleged injuries.But the lawsuit — and thousands like it filed each year in Wayne County Circuit Court, involving over tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and in-home benefits — helps explain why Detroit drivers face the highest average auto insurance rates in the country, often more than $3,000 a year for a single vehicle.Overall, Michigan residents pay the third-highest car insurance rates nationwide, according to the latest figures released by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.While carjackings, vehicle thefts, and even racist "redlining" are commonly discussed reasons for the high rates in Detroit, a Free Press investigation finds that runaway medical bills, disability benefits payouts and lawsuits under Michigan’s one-of-a-kind, no-fault insurance system Continue Reading

Alleged NYPD ticket fixing must be quickly probed, guilty punished, public assured it can’t repeat

The emerging evidence suggests that taking care of tickets as a "courtesy" for friends, family and the connected has been widely practiced in the NYPD. You're not surprised? Check. A Bronx grand jury is considering the matter amid reports that some 40 cops are facing potential criminal scrutiny and 100 or so may get jammed up departmentally. Those are goodly numbers, and they may well rise, given how casually the alleged fixing appears to have taken place. Consider the tape-recorded words of Deputy Inspector John D'Adamo, as reported in today's Daily News. Facing the grand jury's attention after asking a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate for help in making a summons disappear, D'Adamo said: "I mean, how can you hammer me for asking a delegate to take care of one ticket? Come on!" Not that this is the French Connection case or anything, but the fact that D'Adamo is a ranking officer and that he sought the services of a union rep point to the participation of many and the knowledge of even more. Sergeants' Benevolent Association President Edward Mullins insists as much in a letter to his members. He wrote: "The current investigation into extending police courtesies by hardworking rank-and-file police officers is ludicrous. If the truth were to be told, it is hard to call such practices acts of corruption when the culture of extending courtesies to members and their families within the NYPD has existed since the day the very first summons was ever written." Mullins is asking current and former cops to send him information about favors done for notables, his argument being that since everyone was involved, no one should suffer consequences. Sorry, that's not how the world works. Police are charged with providing equal enforcement of the laws - including laws against driving without a seat belt or using a cell phone at the wheel. As for the Bronx grand jury, District Attorney Robert Johnson should stick to cases in which cops accepted money Continue Reading

Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano claims ‘the system worked’ after terrorist attack foiled

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano brushed off the glaring mistakes that allowed a Nigerian bomber onto a U.S.-bound plane, stressing Sunday that everything worked "like clockwork" - after passengers foiled his plot. "Once the incident occurred, the system worked," she stunningly told ABC's "This Week." "The traveling public is very, very safe," she assured CNN. As for the warning from the bomber's father that his son was a threat, and the screening flaws that failed to flag a killer while innocent grandmothers are routinely pulled aside for an extra patdown, Napolitano had little to say. The federal government, she said, never had "information that would put this individual on a no-fly list." Critics pounced faster than passengers on a bomber setting himself on fire. "The fact is the system did not work," Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "He got to the one-yard line." The terror plot almost killed 289 people on Christmas Day. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he was "troubled by several aspects of this case, including how the suspect escaped the attention of the State Department and law enforcers when his father apparently reported concerns." Dad warned U.S. officials Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, 70, former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, warned U.S. Embassy officials last month that his son had become radicalized, broken ties with the family and might be in Yemen. That put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, on the Terrorist Identities Datamark Environment (TIDE) list of more than 560,000 potential terrorist sympathizers - but not the hard-case "no fly" list of 4,000 names and the "selectee" list of 14,000. The no-fly designation would have barred Abdulmutallab from boarding the plane. The "selectee" list would have subjected him to a body search, which likely would have found the explosives sewn into his underpants. Secretary of State Clinton has ordered a review, and "we will go back over everything that Continue Reading

Hey MLB, how ’bout a little help

It has happened too many times over the past three baseball seasons. Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang would pitch brilliantly. In the clubhouse afterward, reporters would crowd around for insight about how he carved up another opponent. All we'd find out is: "Sinker was good. Slider good, too." It's a ridiculous situation. Wang is a bright and insightful guy who obviously has a lot of wisdom about pitching, but isn't yet confident giving an interview in his second language. Would you? So instead of the Yankees fan base realizing this, most see him as robotic, a metronome. It's not fair to him. It's not fair to them. Baseball is now a worldwide game, a fact it's proud of. Players from English-speaking countries share the clubhouse with ones from all over Latin America, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and even Indonesia. Every team should be required to staff a translator so every player can communicate through the press to the fans that follow it and pay its egregious ticket prices. That's actually the way it happens. Players talk to reporters who tell their stories and convey their personalities or explain their actions. It shows how they are not so different from the rest of us, and I don't just mean the Rangers' Josh Hamilton overcoming substance abuse. Just a few examples: Mike Mussina collects muscle cars. Fernando Tatis built a church. And when he feels he needs to do a better job, Jason Giambi wears a thong.The way the system works now, it's catch as catch can. Sometimes the translation is being done by the guy in the next locker, which is an undue burden on him ("He says that working on hitting the inside pitch is paying off, but guys I've got dinner plans and have to go."). Sometimes it's being done by a coach, which means maybe you get the literal translation or maybe it's watered down ("I wanted to stay in the game, but I completely respect the manager's decision.") And then sometimes the translation falls to a member of the press from Continue Reading

So easy for scofflaws to slip through cracks in New York Cit collection system

The city has allowed deadbeats to rack up a $2 billion tab in part because 20 agencies are responsible for collections - and they often don't talk to each other, the Daily News has learned. One city collector could pursue a building owner for property taxes while another goes after the same person for code violations - possibly even on the same building. "We have to be smarter about this," said Carole Post, head of the administration's effort to improve collections. "There will always be debt. We're not going to collect every penny that is owed to us ... but there's more out there that we could collect by doing it smarter and more efficiently." Together with two outside consulting firms working with the city, Post said she and her staff will review the people and companies that owe the city money for taxes, fees, fines, permits or penalties. She said they will learn why some debt has gone uncollected for years and make changes to improve collections. "We're going about this in a very systematic way," Post said. The Daily News reported last Sunday that hundreds of thousands of scofflaws owe the city $694 million in business taxes, $614 million in property taxes, $454 million in parking tickets and $292 million for code violations. The debt tops $2 billion. Bloomberg, noting that the city is trying to whittle down the debt, said the $2 billion is not unusual and that some of it would cost more to collect than it would be worth. Post said her team will look at everything from how tickets or fines are issued to whether anyone updates a scofflaw's address when a bill comes back as undeliverable. They'll explore ways to use the city's sprawling bureaucracy as a hammer so people who want a permit from one city department will first have to settle all debt. And they'll try to connect agency computers so a current phone number on a permit application could update information on an aging tax bill. It's an ambitious effort that the city hopes will net Continue Reading

EXCLUSIVE: Rikers Island inmates hinder legal system to avoid showing up at court, costing taxpayers $67.1M

For 2,521 days, the grieving son of murdered Queens dad Jagdish Missir waited and waited and waited for the wheels of justice to turn. Police arrested a suspect named David Chisolm two days after 39-year-old Missir was fatally shot in the face before a barbecue in May 2008. They had video placing Chisolm at the scene of the crime. They even had his videotaped and signed confessions. But for about seven years, Chisolm managed to throw wrench after wrench into the gears of the legal system to keep from going to prison — and extend his stay on Rikers Island — at a cost of $1.16 million to city taxpayers. “I kind of gave up,” Missir’s son Christopher told the Daily News. “It’s a low-priority case to the system. It’s another murder that happened in New York City that didn’t involve the police or anyone known. It’s at the bottom of the barrel.” And there are lots of other David Chisolms in that barrel, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Rikers is supposed to be a temporary holding spot for people awaiting trial or convicted of crimes with a sentence of a year or less. But while most Rikers inmates are in and out in about 54 days at a cost of $24,840, a Daily News investigation found that 95 inmates have figured out how to game the system. These enterprising inmates have spent an average of 1,535 days in the jail, racking up an average $706,100 in costs. That adds up to an astonishing $67.1 million, a figure reached by multiplying the combined estimated 145,792 days these offenders have spent at Rikers by $460, which is the estimated cost of housing a single inmate per day. How did they manage to gum up the works? By repeatedly changing pleas. By changing lawyers. Or by simply refusing to go to court. One justice-dodging inmate failed to report to court 18 times since 2012, a review of records obtained via a Freedom of Information Law Continue Reading