Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010

News of the Weird

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Taxes? Disappearing Inc.

It is common knowledge that American corporations avoid taxes by running U.S. profits through offshore "tax havens" like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. A May BusinessWeek investigation traced the specific steps that the pharmaceutical company Forest Laboratories takes to short the U.S. Treasury. Although Forest's anti-depressant Lexapro is sold only in the United States, the company's patent is held by an Irish subsidiary (and since 2005, shared with a Bermuda subsidiary in a tax-code hocus-pocus that insiders call the "Double Irish"), which allows the vast majority of the $2 billion a year Forest earns on Lexapro to be taxed at Ireland's low rate (and at Bermuda's rate of zero). BusinessWeek estimates that the U.S. Treasury loses at least $60 billion annually by corporations’ "transfer pricing"—enough money to pay for the entire Department of Homeland Security for a year.

Least Competent Police

In March, acting on department intelligence, four NYPD officers went to the home of Walter and Rose Martin in Brooklyn, N.Y. The officers broke a window as they worked their way inside the home to search for a suspect. The Martins, retired and in their 80s, were not involved in any crime, and a police spokesman later admitted that officers had wrongly visited or raided the Martins' home more than 50 times since 2002 because of a computer glitch. When the software was originally installed, an operator tested it by typing in a random address; however, the address happened to correspond to the Martins' house, and thus the visits and raids began. The Martins say they have been assured several times that the problem has been corrected.

Least Competent Criminals

Recurring Themes: Eugene Palmer, 40, wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun, was arrested in Brunswick, Ga., in March as he tried to rush into a SunTrust bank during business hours only to become frustrated by the locked doors—in that it was a drive-through-only branch. (2) Danny Spencer, 31, and a partner were arrested in Bridgeport, Conn., in December as they called attention to themselves by driving through the city dragging a half-ton safe they could not crack open at the Madison Auto store they had just burglarized. (3) Ethan Ayers, 18, and a partner were arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in March after an alleged mugging. Police found them easily, as their transportation that night was a relative's van advertising in large lettering, "Big Earl's Goldmine," a Des Moines strip club.

Big Tips

After surveying 374 waitresses, professor Michael Lynn, who teaches marketing and tourism at Cornell University, concluded that customers left larger tips to those with certain physical characteristics such as being slender, being blond or having big breasts. Lynn told TheCornell Daily Sun in May that his study was important in helping potential waitresses gauge their "prospects in the industry."

Government in Action

n In May in Ventnor City, N.J., volunteers started on a project to finish new restrooms for patrons visiting the town’s Atlantic shore. Throughout the summer, officials have continued to seek financial donations for the project—including, apparently, naming rights. Said Commissioner Stephen Weintrob, "How would someone like to have a toilet named after themselves, or a urinal or sink?"

n California law requires parole agents to respond immediately if a sex offender's GPS tagging device signals that he or she is in a prohibited area. But while the law passed with relative ease, it’s proven much harder to implement. As of June, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune investigation, the state had fallen behind on about 31,000 responses in Southern California alone.

A News of the Weird Classic

In May 1996, Minneapolis artist Judy Olausen debuted the hardcover photographic essay Mother, which featured Olausen’s 74-year-old mom as a series of passive, subordinate characters. Images included her mother kneeling on all fours with a pane of glass on her back ("Mother as Coffee Table"), lying alongside a highway ("Mother as Roadkill") and sprawling at an entrance ("Mother as Doormat"). "My brothers think I'm torturing my mother," Olausen said. "I'm immortalizing her."

2010 Chuck Shepherd