How to Replace Gizmo’s Free Phone Service

Want a nearly free phone line?  Want to replace your Gizmo service when Google kills it early next month?  All you need is a $40 piece of hardware, a broadband Internet connection, and about an hour of cursing and shrieking as you configure it all.

Start with a free Google Voice account.  Google Voice has too many benefits to name here.  You’ll get a free telephone number with it, plus the ability to make free calls to the US and Canada, and cheap calls to everywhere else. 

Second, order a Linksys PAP2T or a Grandstream 286 ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) from Amazon.  When you get the ATA you will see it has two types of ports – the Ethernet jack connects the box to your router (sorry, no WiFi devices), and the smaller phone jack(s) connects to standard telephone cable to link the ATA to your your phone.  Then the real fun begins.

Register for a free account with CallWithUs.  You’ll notice that the site looks crude – don’t worry, it works well.  Their tech support team responds quickly to email, too.  Be sure to put some money ($5 should do it) into your CallWithUs account, to keep it alive.

Connect your ATA, plug in the phone, and get ready for the weirdest device configuration experience you may ever see.  You’ll need to have a computer on the same network as the ATA, since you’ll configure the ATA through a web browser.

You will configure your ATA using information from your CallWithUs account.  Don’t cry – you won’t touch most of the settings you see here.  When you’re done, the phone you connected to your ATA should be putting out a dial tone.  If it doesn’t work, fight your urge to go free-style on the configuration – go to the CallWithUs configuration page and click on your device’s link for screen shots of your ATA’s correct configuration pages.  When you get the dial tone on your phone you’re ready to start making outbound calls. 

Now it’s time to go get a standard telephone number (called a DID) to let people call into your new line.

Go to IPKall (you thought CallWithUs looked crude!) and get your free telephone number there.  Under SIP username, enter your CallWithUs username (not the account number).  Under Hostname or IP Address, enter ‘’.  You probably want to use the same password you used for your CallWithUs account.  Leave all other values as they are.  They will give you a Washington or Oregon telephone number, but nobody but you and Google Voice needs to know this number.

Try dialing your IPKall telephone number from your cell phone (not from your new free phone).  The free phone should ring.  You’re almost done.

Now, go back to your Google Voice account, go to Settings |Voice Settings, and add your IPKall number as one of the numbers Google Voice will forward to.  (If Google Voice says this number is in use by another Google Voice user, cancel your IPKall account and get another – you’ll get another number that should work.)

To make free outbound calls now, just use Google Voice and have Google Voice call your new IPKall number to set up the call.  It should sound better than your regular telephone line.  And callers to your Google Voice line will reach your new free line (as well as any other phones you enter into Google Voice).

Crack open a beer – you deserve it.  With the money you’ll save, make that beer a Sierra Nevada Estate ale.


  • Make sure you have entered CallWithUS STUN server settings into your ATA (and check tigurr’s comments below for network-related settings). This makes sure incoming calls get through your firewall and NAT (local network).
  • Want your free phone line to ring all through your house or apartment?  You can wire the Linksys box into a 110 block to power multiple phones in your home.  It puts out enough power to ring 5 modern telephones. 
  • You will need to make the occasional (every 30 days at least) direct call with your free phone to maintain your CallWithUs account.  Calls are very cheap, though – just make sure your Google Voice number show up as the line’s Caller ID (Log into your CallWithUs account, select Add Caller ID from the menu on the left, and add your Google Voice number (11 digits – make sure you have the ‘1’ before your area code)).
  • Don’t use this number for 911 calls – emergency services may not automatically know where you are.
  • Choose the G711 codec in your ATA for best voice quality.  Unless your Internet connection is slow – then use G729.
  • To maintain high-quality phone calls set your router to give bandwidth preference (QOS) to your ATA.  This will make sure that other Internet use doesn’t get in the way of your calls.
  • Here is a Dial Plan (for entry into your ATA’s settings) that will let you dial local calls with only 7 digits:  L:10,S:6,(*xxS3|[46]11|S0|17472066858S0|1222xxxxxxxS0|1[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xxxxxx|[x*][x*].) Be sure to replace the ‘1415’ string with ‘1 your area code’.


  • How does IPKall make money offering free numbers?  They earn money from telcos (and Google) for ‘terminating’ calls to these numbers. Make sure to send a few calls to your free phone line each month to keep it alive.
  • How does CallWithUs make money?  By charging you for direct calls.  That’s why you have to make a direct call every once in a while to keep your account alive.

2010 Clio Award Winners


Voter Guide for San Francisco and CA Ballot Initiatives


19 – Legalize marijuana production, sale and consumption for 21 and up

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  You want to stop wasting money and lives by arresting and jailing people for pot.  You’d rather have the state stay out of personal decisions that don’t hurt others.  You can’t wait to see what pot sellers do with their Federal tax returns. 
  • Why to vote against it:  Alcohol is bad enough – why legalize more drugs?  Because Singapore’s economy is growing more quickly than ours right now.

20 – Extends the authority of Proposition 11’s redistricting commission to congressional districts (it covers state legislative offices and Board of Education now)

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  Same reasons we voted for Prop 11 – it will give political challengers more of a fair chance against incumbents, and will probably produce more pragmatic political candidates.  Also, you want insurance in case Prop 27 passes.
  • Why to vote against it:  You’d like to test the idea first with state legislature.  You’re a lobbyist and you don’t want to have to find new people to bribe every few years.

21 – $18 annual vehicle license fee surcharge to help fund state parks and wildlife programs

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  You believe that the state doesn’t have enough money, that state parks are important, and that the state will actually apply this revenue to state parks.
  • Why to vote against it:  See Prop 22 – the state will just dump this fee into the general fund, then waste it on huge public employee pensions.  Voters should not be trying to design state budget.  California has plenty of money, but the legislature is not spending it wisely.

22 – Restrict government’s ability to redirect fuel and local property taxes

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  You want to stabilize city budgets by preventing the state from taking funds previously earmarked for cities.  The gas tax was passed on a promise to apply revenues to fixing roads, and you want to hold the state to this promise.  You have no faith in state legislators’ abilities to construct an effective state budget.
  • Why to vote against it:  Legislators should have the flexibility to apply state revenues where they are needed, even if they’ve done it poorly so far.  Voters are even less likely than legislators to construct an effective state budget.

23 – Suspends state greenhouse gas limits (limit to 1990 levels) imposed by AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate is under 5.5% for a year

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  California is too small and open an economy to make this a positive-revenue proposition.  You believe we will still have adequate laws in place to protect our air and water quality without AB 32.  It will make California less attractive to employers while doing little to no global good, since polluting businesses will just move to neighboring states.  You realize that having oil companies back a bill doesn’t mean that it is automatically a bad idea.
  • Why to vote against it:  Global warming is a problem, and California should do its part to slow or reverse it, even if that means symbolic acts.  You believe that air and water quality are insufficiently protected without AB 32.  Imposing stringent limits will create new clean technology business opportunities in the state, and some California firms will probably benefit.  California’s unemployment rate may not hit the bill’s target for 10 years or more.

24 – Close various recent (2008-2009) tax loopholes for businesses

  • Vote:  NO OPINION (leaning toward YES)
  • Why to vote for it:  You’re against tax loopholes in general, and see no reason why businesses should have financial losses publicly subsidized through tax loss carry-backs.  The state is running a huge deficit.   
  • Why to vote against it:  You’re worried about California’s ability to attract and retain businesses.  The state has plenty of revenues, but needs to manage its spending better.  Competent legislators should design corporate tax rates, not voters who put an average of 0.3 minutes into researching each ballot initiative.

25 – Allow legislators to pass a budget and enact new fees with only a simple majority vote, instead of the present 2/3 requirement.

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  You believe that the 2/3 vote requirement creates gridlock, and the resulting budget uncertainties are damaging to schools and agencies that depend on predictable budgets.  You want the legislature to get around Prop 13/209 limits on raising taxes.
  • Why to vote against it:  Effective single-party rule in Democrat-dominated California.  Even though the law clearly states that it is not intended to alter the 2/3 vote requirements for new taxes, the legislature can just define all sorts of new taxes as ‘fees’.  You may be rightly terrified of handing legislators this option before they show themselves able to confront hundreds of billions of dollars of unfunded pension fund commitments and other liabilities.

26 – Defines a range of fees as effectively taxes, subjecting them to 2/3 majority vote before imposition

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  You believe that Propositions 13 and 209 are important bulwarks against government spending bloat, and want to end loopholes that allow governments to raise taxes with simple majority votes.  Making end-runs around these propositions in tough times may sound like a good idea, but legislators have proven already that they spend your money to buy votes and keep themselves in office, and that they have as a group little respect for the financial best interests of the state or its voters.
  • Why to vote against it:  You can’t turn down ice cream, cocaine or under-aged women, and you’d feel like a hypocrite holding your legislature to higher standards.

27 – Eliminates the state redistricting commission, returning redistricting authority to elected officials.

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  You think politicians are inherently honest, and that they’re totally unconcerned with being voted out of office.  You are an elected representative, or you’re the representative’s family member who manages campaign funds.  You’ve misplaced critical medication.  You can’t read.
  • Why to vote against it:  Whether or not it is perfect, you believe Prop 11 was a rare and hard-fought chance to create a better democratic system in California.  You want to see new political candidates have a fair chance against incumbents. 


AA – Adding $10 to the annual registration fee for vehicles registered in San Francisco

  • Vote – NO
  • Why to vote for it:  It’s not much money per person, and the city needs money to repair streets and make traffic safer.  No matter what you vote, it will pass – this is San Francisco – and you want to be on the winning side of a ballot initiative just once.
  • Why to vote against it:  The listed needs may be legitimate, but most revenues raised by this tax (call it what it is) will be pissed away on useless programs and a continuing failure to address bloated city budgets.

A – $46 million bond to provide grants and loans to fortify private property against earthquakes.

  • Vote: NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Apparently, some property owners either can’t afford to make structural improvements, or they don’t find such improvements to be economically justified.
  • Why to vote against it:  This should be handled through regulations (let new property owners make the changes if current ones cannot), not through public subsidies.  It sets a very bad precedent, and the money will probably be wasted on cronies.

B – Public employees to be made to contribute more toward their health care and retirement.  Binds city government to follow certain formulas in negotiations with city employees.

  • Vote – YES
  • Why to vote for it:  Making employees share health care costs should lower health care costs immediately, and also slow their growth.  It would also limit city government’s ability to increase total payroll costs, and the City has shown itself unable to control spending increases.
  • Why not to vote for it:  This is effectively a pay cut, not just a re-alignment of incentives, and a lot of city employees don’t make much money to start with.  Layoffs and more effective restrictions on retirement benefits would be a more effective way to reduce the cost of government.  It may not be legal.

C – Mayor to be forced to meet with the Board of Supervisors

  • Vote – NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Because you think that forcing people into a room will create better government, or because you like micromanaging your elected representatives.
  • Why to vote against it:  It will only add pointless procedures to government.

D – Non-citizens with kids in school here to be able to vote for Board of Education members

  • Vote – NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Because having kids in school may give these potential voters a sincere interest in voting well.
  • Why to vote against it:  Because non-citizens shouldn’t vote. 

E – Voters would be able to register on Election Day

  • Vote: NO
  • Why to vote for it:  It’s an efficient way to register more voters (lots of political folks at work during this time), and why should Election Day be any different from other days?
  • Why to vote against it:  There will be boatloads of fraudulent activity as politicians and interest groups bus in loads of vagrants for registration, overwhelming the city’s ability to check eligibility.  If you can’t register in advance we probably don’t want your vote in the system.

F – Cut in half the number of Health Service Board elections

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  It will save the city a little money.
  • Why to vote against it:  Staggered elections make more stable boards.  Sharp changes can be very wasteful in institutions.

G – Let the city bargain with MUNI employers instead of requiring that they are the 2nd-best paid public transit workers in the US.

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  It’s bad enough that city budgets are subject to the stupidity of our own elected officials, but the current formula makes us hostage to the stupidity of voters in other cities.  Because you drive and SUV and you don’t care about public transportation or anyone else at all.
  • Why to vote against it:  Because buying that Prius didn’t expunge the guilt as you expected it would.  Because throwing money at problems always makes them go away.  Because MUNI drivers have been mugging San Francisco for years, and everyone knows that the first thing you do when being mugged is hand over your wallet.

H – Prohibit elected officials from serving on political party central committees

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  Politicians use party committee affiliations to circumvent limits on campaign contributions, which helps lock even ineffective incumbents into office.
  • Why to vote against it:  Because you don’t believe in limiting campaign contributions, or because you think this is a pointless gesture and the pols will find a way around it in less time than it takes to read this.  Because you’re a fan of one-party rule.

I – Open polling places on the Saturday before Tuesday elections

  • Vote:  YES
  • Why to vote for it:  Lets people who work long Tuesdays vote without having to vote absentee.  Funded by private money (voluntarily given), so why not?
  • Why to vote against it:  Anyone can vote absentee, so why do we need this?

J – Increase the hotel tax to 16% (from 14%), and collect tax on the full rate of the room, not the wholesale rate (what it was sold to Expedia for).

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Shifts some of our tax burden to visitors, closes a revenue-reducing loophole that has been exploited by travel web sites.
  • Why to vote against it:  Tourism is a top industry, and golden geese are mortal too.

K – Hold the hotel tax at 14%, but charge tax on the full room rate and related charges

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Closes a revenue-reducing loophole and soaks out-of-towners.  Increases revenue by charging tax also on “related charges”.
  • Why to vote against it:  Adding tax to $7 bottles of peanuts and $40 parking charges, room service and everything else is just money-grubbing that makes SF look bad to visitors.  The City has enough money, but needs to control spending.

L – Make it illegal to sit down or lie down on sidewalks

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Sometimes aggressive people block sidewalks and entrances to homes and businesses, especially in the Haight, and the police seem unable to manage this.
  • Why to vote against it:  It’s too broad.  A better measure would prohibit the actual blocking of sidewalks and entrances, keeping a certain minimum throughway or free space around doors/steps, accomplishing the worthy main goal while still preserving personal freedom.

M – Requiring the police to adopt a community policing policy

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  Because you like micromanaging public agencies and think you know how.  Because you hate Prop M enough to embrace Byzantine measures against it. 
  • Why to vote against it:  Because city agencies need the authority to make their own decisions and be held accountable for them.  Because we want to attract competent people to head city agencies.

N – Increase real estate transfer tax

  • Vote:  NO
  • Why to vote for it:  You believe the city needs more money and should just reach out to take it.
  • Why to vote against it:  Because a city’s inability to maintain reasonable spending priorities is no excuse for reaching into its residents’ pockets again and again.

Fruit vs. Robot

Fruit v Robot Will Google’s Android operating system overwhelm Apple’s iPhone OS and RIM’s BlackBerry the way Windows nearly wiped out the Mac OS? Yes.  It will come down to the popularity of Google’s free Internet-based applications, and the range of phone manufacturers selling Android phones.

Blackberry still leads US smart phone manufacturers, but after getting messaging exactly right they seem to have stopped expanding the concept.  Apple makes great products, and they have done a good job by combining services and syncing desktops to the iPhone, but seem intent on playing Custer again for quickly growing band of Android Indians, and their online services are not broadly used outside of iTunes.  Microsoft shows every sign of continuing to squander their historic advantages.  Nokia is the big gorilla in phones, but Ovi is too tightly tied to their own products.  And Palm’s best chance is selling to Yahoo!, which isn’t much of a chance at all.

Smart phones depend for their success on how much of the world they can fit into a device smaller than the user’s hand.  The ideal phone would let a user take it out of its box for the first time, turn it on, sign in once and get access to all the data from their laptop or desktop, and their favorite online accounts, plus all the location-based features that only phones or navigation devices can provide.  Only Microsoft or Google have a prayer of pulling this off, and only Google will.

RIM’s BlackBerry devices were the first to fit Microsoft’s Exchange into a user’s hand.  With a fairly simple activation process, a user went from having a mostly empty phone, to having all their email, contacts, calendar, task lists and Exchange notes from their PCs, with them anywhere they went. 

RIM has added web browsers, cameras, music and application support to the BlackBerry line, which now dominate US smart phone sales, but RIM itself doesn’t provide the online services (webmail, music downloads, video sharing, online documents, etc.) that reach most Internet users, so services like iTunes and Google Docs aren’t integrated into the phone’s operating system and those popular services will probably always run more smoothly on iPhone or Android devices. Further, RIM, like Apple, doesn’t license the BlackBerry operating system, which restricts the range of BlackBerry-based products, and leaves the line vulnerable to a single management team’s mistakes.

Apple’s ownership of iTunes (a true killer application) gave the iPhone a great start, and Apple also offers its own email service, web page hosting and services to synchronize data between iPhones and PCs.  The trouble for Apple is that, iTunes aside, Mac users are just about the only people who use the Apple online services, and Mac users make up only around 10% of all PC users.  Charging for some of these service doesn’t help consumer adoption, either, but Apple doesn’t have Google’s ad network to make them all free.  Also, like RIM, Apple has so far not licensed the iPhone operating system, so there are only 3 iPhone models available, and then only through one US carrier.  

Hundreds of millions of PC users, including Mac users, have Google accounts, and unlike some of Apple’s services, nearly every Google service is available at no charge to the user.  The sheer breadth of Google’s offerings, and their free availability, means that even dedicated Mac users will eventually find reason to get a Google account, whether it is to get access to Google Docs or Voice, or because an employer or a school has moved communications to the Google Apps platform.  As Google expands its product range eventually it will only become more rewarding to boot your mobile phone with a Google ID.

If Google’s service advantage were not enough, Android phones are made by several of the world’s largest phone manufacturers, including Motorola, HTC and Samsung.  Instead of 3 iPhones that work with one US carrier, there are at least 11 Android phones, and they’re available through all 4 major US carriers.

What about Nokia?  It still sells half the world’s cell phones, and sells more smart phones than anyone else.  Nokia offers maps, file sync, Exchange-like personal information management, music and photo sharing through its Ovi suite of services.  Nice, yes.  Built for phones, yes.  But built for one manufacturer’s Nokia phones, and without anything like Google’s breadth of services.

What about Microsoft?  Lots of manufacturers make Windows Mobile devices, and Microsoft makes Exchange and offers a huge range of online services.  But Microsoft’s culture is rooted in application sales, not services, and the company’s online services are poorly integrated and less broadly used than Google’s.  They could give Google a run, but they probably won’t.

And Palm?  Yahoo! should buy them now to do for that company’s services what Android does for Google’s.  Any other option for Web OS, and, well….

No More Bridge Tolls

martin-aircraft-jetpack-4No matter who you are, you need this.

A New Zealand-based company, the Martin Aircraft Company , is now taking orders for what might be the first really usable (not the same as practical, or even safe) jetpack for around US$90,000.

It even has a parachute system which, according to the manufacturer, will save you “from a catastrophic failure down to a reasonably low altitude,” which may still be considerably higher than you’d ever take this thing.  As pilots say, taking off is easy; it’s the landings that can be tough.

But enough about the safety details.  Put 10% down today, take delivery in a year, and don’t tell Anthem Blue Cross what you’re up to.

A Hellenic Way to Finance a Country

IMG_1205 (300x400) Much has been made of investment banks helping Greece hide its growing pile of debt and propensity to live beyond its means while at the same time benefiting from its problems by being short CDS, or in banker vernacular ‘buying protection’. In fact Goldman was doing what any well run bank would do; finding a solution for a client (banks like to be thought of as solution providers) and actively managing its risks.

The trade was this: Goldman and Greece entered into a currency swap contract on an existing liability Greece had in Yen.  Greece issued a bunch of bonds denominated in Yen at the turn of millennium and back in the 90s when the Euro was a lot weaker.  Greece exchanged the Yen it raised through the bond sale for Euro, and spent the proceeds on ouzo, olives and BMWs.  Because of the depreciation of the Yen (Euro strength), Greece had achieved a massive gain (i.e., cheapened the cost of debt). 

Normally when you enter into a cross currency swap the agreement is to exchange cash flows at the current spot rate. The NPV of paying Euro (swapping a Yen into a euro liability) and receiving Yen is $0.  The difference in the interest payments pays for the forward appreciation/ depreciation of the currencies.  Let’s assume at the time of the bond issue the exchange rate was 100 Yen/ euro.  At the time of entering into the currency swap contract the Yen/euro exchange rate was 120.   Greece entered into contract by setting the exchange rate not at 120, but at 100 Yen/euro.   Say they swapped a Yen 100 billion liability, then using the current spot rate of 120 Greece would have owed Goldman in the future Euro830 million and would have received Yen100bn at maturity of the swap and bond.  The Greeks had done well, reducing the effective Euro cost of borrowing by 20%! 

Now what the Greeks did was to actually exchange at the old spot rate so they owed Goldman Euro1 billion and would receive Yen100 billion (if they had done the swap at the current spot rate Greece would have reduced the amount it owed by Euro170 million).  Goldman then paid Greece the present value difference of Euro1 billion less Euro 830 million upfront.  The variations on this type of deal could be not to upfront the payment, but reduce Greece’s annual interest payment in Euro to Goldman. 

Somehow under the budget rules this extra amount Greece owed did not show up.

However Goldman now has a massive credit exposure to Greece in the event Greece fails to make good on its scheduled payments in Euro.  To hedge the risk Goldman bought credit protection on Greece in the CDS market (which is the equivalent of being short Greek bonds).  Then Goldman has no exposure to Greek credit but has lent them billions.  (Goldman probably bought protection from AIG!).  So, Goldman was not betting against Greece, it was being prudent by protecting itself and hedging the risk of Greek credit.

These trades and similar ones likes it were done on a massive scale by many banks.  The bad thing for Greece is that not only did it hide the borrowing, it was actually really expensive borrowing because of the frictions in the trade and the very, very large profits made by the banks……

-by a Guest Author

Bringing the Fun Back to Auto Racing

Big auto racing seems to have lost some of its zip. Indy and Formula One cars just follow each other around the tracks while sanctioning officials sue each other and pursue strange fetishes. NASCAR racers have traded Jack Daniels for manscaping and PR flaks, and their cars no longer bear any relation to what you can find in a showroom – they are like silicone implants without the breasts.

Fortunately for racing fans, there is the 24 Hours of LeMons, where amateur drivers race $500 cars for a full day and night, where winners take home a sack full of nickels, and where cars may be dismantled in front of the fans for enough violations of the sport’s entertaining rules (as the pig and chicken graphics on the LeMons website suggest, some cars are involved, others are committed).  If NASCAR, F1 and Indy are tired sitcoms, LeMons is a chaotic Japanese reality TV show.

Some LeMons cars are raced to win. Many are there to entertain, so you get entrants like this BMW 3-series that has been converted with a Ranchero body.

Races are held all over the country, and the sport is growing quickly. Not exactly a ‘green’ sport, but a lot greener, more democratic, and probably much more fun than what big racing has become.  How soon before Fox starts showing this stuff on weekends?

Accurate Reporting? “Not totally”

What if Toyota built its cars according to the quality standards used by our news media?  Would there be a Toyota driver alive today?  Would they have to rename the company “Chrysler”?

“Toyota exec says recall won’t ‘totally’ fix problem” – This headline is typical of the way American news organizations have treated Toyota executive James E. Lentz’s testimony before the US House Commerce and Energy Committee.  Even the journals that use phrases like “Executive admits recall may not totally solve…” seem to be suggesting that Lentz had identified more serious problems with Toyota’s vehicles.

What Lentz really said was quite different, according to Colorado Springs’ news station, KRDO.

Lentz said that, while the company had not expressly ruled out an electronics malfunction, “We have not found a malfunction” in the electronics of any of the cars at issue. He cited “fail-safe mechanisms” in the cars that were designed to shut off or reduce engine power “in the event of a system failure.”

But when pressed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on whether he could say with certainty that the fixes now being undertaken would completely eliminate the problems, Lentz hesitated a moment and then replied: “Not totally.” [italics added]

Waxman set Lentz up with a question whose answer he knew could only be either dishonest, or easily misinterpreted for sensational effect.  Lentz, should have evaded that question, but he responded in good faith.  And Toyota was promptly and roughly screwed for Lentz’s answer. 

It took more than 10 minutes of searching to find a transcript of this exchange, so most followers of this story will never see an accurate depiction of Toyota’s testimony.  The news media is selling panic – almost every account of this story is inaccurate. 

No wonder Americans have little respect for our news media.  No wonder voters have so much trouble making informed decisions at the ballot box.

Mix Red and Blue, Get Savings

Los Angeles is looking at a $200+ million deficit this year, and nearly $500 million in deficits for fiscal 2010-2011, so Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to cut costs.  The LA Times reports today that he has proposed combining the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment with the Community Development Department in order to save around $2 million. 

Really.  Don’t laugh.  Cry instead, since they’ll probably spend $3 million in attorney fees to decide the issue. 

(To be fair, Mayor Villaraigosa tried to lay off 1,000 city workers, but has been thwarted so far by the City Council.)

How about consolidating police and fire departments to save some real money?  Having separate public safety organizations just duplicates resources (raising costs, reducing the ratio of field personnel to support personnel), and creates coordination problems ranging from conflicting command hierarchies and emergency procedures down to incompatible radio systems.

Even if the mayor doesn’t feel like pushing two powerful unions under a single roof, there are other ways to stretch public safety dollars.  The City of Beaufort, SC, has hired a consultant to look at combining the city’s police and fire departments.  The consultant immediately pointed out that, since fire department employees spend only 5-10% of their time responding to emergencies, there is plenty of time during their 24-hour shifts for firefighters to do the work of other city departments.

Beaufort’s consultant might call Utica, NY, fire chief Russell Brooks, who favors combining Utica’s fire department with its department of building codes. Brooks thinks the combined departments might lead to more consistent code enforcement, since one department would enforce code standards and bear the consequences if those standards aren’t followed.

Villaraigosa could try a combination – combine police and fire, and then give the firemen clerical work to do while they are not fighting fires or posing for calendars – to bring LA’s budget down.  Of course, he might find out quickly how limited is the benevolence of the Police Benevolent Association.