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Friday, March 2, 2012

What The IRS Could Learn From Mormons

The money Mormons tithe goes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then is distributed to congregations around the world.
Douglas C. Pizac/AP The money Mormons tithe goes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then is distributed to congregations around the world.

Many religious traditions stress the importance of charity. But Mormons are remarkable for the amount and the precision with which they give to their church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that each Mormon in good standing should tithe 10 percent of his or her income. The money goes right to church headquarters in Salt Lake City and then is distributed back to congregations around the world.

"That's written in stone, and preached from the pulpit," says Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who is Mormon.

But while the church is very precise about that figure — 10 percent of income — it does not tell its members what income means.

"Which is really interesting to us economists, because we want to know how people define income," says Dahl.

As anyone who has ever done their taxes knows, figuring out what counts as income is harder than it sounds.

The IRS has hundreds of pages of rules about these things, but Dahl wanted to know how people think about money when only God is watching. He thought the IRS could actually learn from how Mormons make these decisions.
  Studies have shown that people are more willing to pay taxes if they think taxes are fair. People who think someone else is getting special treatment are more likely to cheat.

Dahl theorized that if you know how people naturally think of income, you can craft the tax laws to better match people's motivations.

But first he had to get Mormons to tell their stories.

Tithing is a very personal act, and Dahl says people were unwilling to talk about how much money they sent in. So Dahl and his colleague Michael Ransom surveyed 1,200 Mormons and presented them with hypothetical questions about giving.

"Suppose your parents gave you $500 for Christmas," he told them. "Would you pay tithing on that money?"

That was a resounding yes among Mormons. Gifts of cash are definitely considered income.
What about a gift of a sofa worth $500? Not so much. Few Mormons said they would tithe on that.
What if you got a cash gift from someone you knew had already paid tithes on the money? The majority of Mormons in the study said they were happy to tithe on it again.

The concept of double tithing doesn't seem to upset Mormons the same way double taxation does. In fact, Dahl found that Mormons were willing to tithe on money that came out of a retirement account — even if they had already tithed 10 percent of it before they invested.

David Shapiro, a financial adviser in Littleton, Colo., says there is often a difference of opinion on these issues within Mormonism. In fact, Shapiro and his wife had different tithing styles when he got married.

He tithed on his gross, pretax income. His wife tithed on her net income — she took out taxes first, then tithed on the rest.

"Her logic was [that the] money I pay to the government isn't money in my pocket," Shapiro says. "So I shouldn't have to pay tithing on that"

Shapiro eventually convinced his wife to pay on the larger amount.

Dahl says he found that Mormons, in general, tended to adopt the more simple and generous definitions of income.

They would pay a full tithe on the profit when they sold a stock. Yet, if they dumped a stock for a loss, they wouldn't use the loss to offset and lower the income they tithed on. Unlike taxpayers, the Mormons in the study weren't big fans of taking deductions so they could send less money to the church.

"They're worried about being petty with God," Dahl says.

I asked a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City if a few more rules defining income might make tithing easier on Mormons or bring in more money for the church. He said all this soul-searching about what you owe God is kind of the point.

Content providers may adopt per-screen pricing


With the proliferation of online video content being consumed on multiple devices, providers of that content may need to adopt a per-screen pricing model, according to Steve McCaffery, a vice president at Motorola Mobility. "We expect different pricing models to emerge that give the user the rights to watch content on one or more devices," he said. Total Telecom Magazine (U.K.)

So, are we workers or thinking citizens? What should a college be for?

Gary Shapiro
Gary Shapiro, Contributor
President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association 

Innovation and Community Colleges - The Overlooked National Asset

Throughout his administration, President Obama has made higher education a priority. As far back as 2009, Obama lamented America’s nearly 40 percent college dropout rate. More recently, the president called a college degree “an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

I don’t doubt that the president is entirely correct with his prognosis of our dire higher education graduation rate. What concerns me is whether he is going about solving this problem in the right way. In other words, if the unemployment rate among new graduates is 8.9%, is the problem really that not enough Americans are getting college degrees?

Representing more than 2,200 innovation-driven companies, I often hear CEOs lament they can’t find the skilled people to hire. Their reason is not that there aren’t enough college-educated applicants. Rather, it’s because the skills students learn at most four-year institutions are not applicable for their innovation-centric companies.

Too often four-year colleges and universities produce degrees that have little real-world value and do not match the skills required by American employers. While degrees in the liberal arts (humanities, anthropology, psychology, etc.) represent interesting, if not difficult, pursuits, they are often not useful in getting jobs. And I say this is as pysch major!

The Georgetown Center released a series of relevant reports on this issue. The study, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,” found that college degrees often do not match available jobs. The report argues that students should align their postsecondary educational choices with available careers. But many four-year institutions require a base of education that covers everything from literature to biology to history, which pushes the length of one’s college career beyond what they need for a job.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect a well-rounded education. But just because someone graduates with a degree from a four-year institution doesn’t automatically mean that they are “educated.” As my dentist told me recently, every winter break he is swamped by college freshmen returning home from their four-year schools with multiple cavities as they fall prey to the carbs and sugars from excessive alcohol and junk food, and forsake basic dental hygiene. The four-year, away-from-home-for-the-first-time college experience is quite different than the experience at a local community college.

And while four-year colleges might dominate the discussions of “college” in America, for millions of Americans, community colleges provide real, practical training.. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, whose data is from 2005, some 6.5 million students took credit at community colleges. Most post-high-school education for blacks and Hispanics is at the community college level. Some two-thirds of community college students attend part-time and the average age is 29.

Yet we hear little from the media or government about the importance, innovation and value coming from these schools. I recently participated in a Florida conference with some 300 leaders from community colleges where we discussed the most innovative community college programs and ideas. There I learned from Houston Community College’s Chancellor Mary Spangler about innovative programs in such areas as tele-medicine, STEM education and learning via mobile telephone. I heard about a community college in Kansas graduating airplane mechanics (much in demand these days) and about programs which can fill the gap between the open jobs and the willing job seekers.

I left that conference convinced that we need a national change in mind set. We need a vision for employment and innovation where we elevate the skilled, the creative and the willing and we de-emphasize the expensive four-year degree. In other words, let’s recognize that our nation’s place in the world was earned by our parents and their grandparents, most of whom did not have four-year degrees.

This is not to deemphasize the importance of higher education. Rather, it’s to argue that the four-year college/university industry is failing to prepare its students for the needs of 21st Century workforce. Not only is the education provided substandard, students leave with a mountain of debt. According to College Measures, almost 5 percent of students at four-year institutions eventually default on their student loans.

Rather than emphasize the four-year degree as an entitlement, as the president has done, our national goal should be a skilled, hard-working, employable work force meeting our competitive and operational needs. Community colleges are the door to opportunity for millions of Americans and we should be encouraging those programs and schools that train Americans for the jobs of the future.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”

Cities of the future will need networked cars, Ford chairman says


The automotive industry must step up its embrace of electronics technology to enable a future in which urban gridlock is mitigated by a network of self-driving cars, according to Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor. Speaking at an international conference, he said, "We tend to think of cars as independent, individual devices. Now we have to look at them the same way we look at laptops, earphones, tablets -- as pieces of a much richer network." CNET (2/27)

“11 All-Time Best Movie Salesmen”


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Love it or leave it, the Lorax is here. Hunger Games battles Lorax at box office. Disney CEO still embattled. Direct to computer broadcaste networks may end in court.


From the LA Times Company Town Blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

The Skinny: Friday's headlines include a preview of the weekend box office, a legal battle over a new service promising to stream broadcast television, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone's busy life and how the WWE's plans for a cable channel seem to have taken a fall.

Daily Dose. In what will likely turn out to be a case of "do what I say, not what I do," Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt again lamented the rising costs of programming and how consumers suffer in the end.  “A lot of the people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck want our product, but simply can’t afford it," Britt said at an investor conference. Of course, Time Warner Cable will soon be hitting Los Angeles consumers with a new sports network that will carry the Los Angeles Lakers and that could end up with the Dodgers as well. Maybe Britt will back up his words and give customers the option to subscribe to it instead of making everyone pay.

The Lorax should be a hit
Photo: "The Lorax." Credit: MCT

"The Lorax" to clean up. Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," about an environmentally conscious creature, is expected to sweep the competition out of the way at the box office this weekend. The 3-D movie is expected to take in about $50 million. Reviews have been poor, as the story has been expanded, modernized (including irreverent attitude) and message made more heavy handed. Also opening is the low-budget teen comedy "Project X," which is poised to take in $20 million. I'd like to see that but I don't want to ruin the demographics for Warner Bros. Box office previews from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.


"The Hunger Games"

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Lenny Kravitz in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close / Lionsgate

Hunger Games' could open at $100 million, surveys suggest "The Hunger Games" is poised to slaughter the box office competition with an opening that could surpass $100 million.

On Thursday, Lionsgate's adaptation of the best-selling book came onto "tracking," the survey data used by Hollywood executives to measure pre-release interest, and the numbers are massive. People who have seen the numbers but were not authorized to discuss them publicly said the film, which debuts March 23, could have a domestic opening weekend of close to, and possibly more than, $100 million.

More consumers rate "The Hunger Games" as their first choice film to see than any movie coming out in the next four weeks. Typically, the movies that get the highest "first choice" ratings are ones closest to their release dates.

Currently, the three biggest companies that provide tracking data are estimating that "Hunger Games" will open to between $70 million and $90 million.

However, Lionsgate still has to roll out most of its marketing for "Hunger Games," which stars Jennifer Lawrence. If ads on TV, print and the Internet along with billboards and publicity help to increase interest in the film, it could end up opening to more than $100 million, several people who saw the data said.

While "Hunger Games" is being compared to "Twilight" by many people, because both are based on books series that are tremendously popular with teenagers, Lionsgate's upcoming film has one key advantage: While the four "Twilight" films have generated their nearly $1.1 billion in domestic box office primarily from women, surveys show that men are interested in "The Hunger Games" as well.
Females, particularly those younger than 25, are the most excited for "Hunger Games," but more men over and under 25 also rate the film as their top choice than any other film opening in the next four weeks.

Already, "The Hunger Games" has broken the record for most first-day sales from online ticketing service Fandango.

A set back for Internet TV. Aereo, a start-up backed by mogul Barry Diller that streams broadcast TV signals over the Internet, is due to launch in New York in a few weeks, but Thursday it was hit with lawsuits from CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, Univision, PBS and some local broadcasters. The suits were expected as the networks generally don't take kindly to people trying to stream their signals without permission. Details from the Los Angeles Times and Paid Content.

Aereo, a new service that promises consumers access to broadcast TV though the Internet, has been hit with lawsuits from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision and PBS.

Scheduled to launch in New York City on March 14, Aereo hopes to charge customers $12 a month to receive broadcast television signals and have access to a digital video recorder in the sky that can hold up to 40 hours of programming.

The two suits — one from ABC, CBS and NBC and the other from Fox, Univision and PBS — were both filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and charge that Aereo does not have the permission or the legal right to retransmit their content via the Internet and is in violation of copyright laws.

"No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo — or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated 'rabbit ears' — changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit Plantiffs' broadcasts may do so only with Plaintiffs' authority," said the suit filed by Fox, PBS and Univision.

Aereo, originally called Bamboom, is backed in part by IAC/InterActiveCorp., the Internet company whose chairman is Barry DillerDiller on Aereo's board of directors, but IAC led the startup's $20.5-million round of financing.

“This service is based on the illegal use of our content," said NBC, CBS and ABC in a statement.
Aereo said in a statement that it "does not believe that the broadcasters’ position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues."

Tribune Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times and owner of TV stations that include KTLA in Los Angeles, is a plaintiff in the Fox-led suit.

RedboxboxPhoto: A Redbox kiosk in San Rafael, Calif. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Universal keeps peace with Redbox, spurning Warner Bros. Universal Pictures has decided not to join forces with Warner Bros. in that studio's war with Redbox.

Universal, the studio behind "Safe House" and this weekend's "The Lorax," on Thursday announced an extension of its deal with the DVD rental kiosk company through August 2014 that will maintain the current 28-day wait from when DVDs go on sale until consumers can rent them from Redbox.
The news comes two months after rival studio Warner Bros. said it would only sell discs to Redbox if it agreed to double the length of the so-called rental "window" to 56 days. The Illinois-based company refused and is now buying Warner DVDs directly from retailers at a higher price than it would have paid the studio.

Executives at both Warner and Universal believe that delays on DVD rentals from Redbox, as well as from Netflix, incentivize consumers to buy the discs or rent films via video-on-demand. Both of those transactions are significantly more profitable to studios than kiosk rentals, which cost just $1.20 per night.

As a result, Universal had wanted to follow in Warner's footsteps and extend the delay on its movies to 56 days, said a person familiar with the thinking of executives at the studio who was not authorized to speak publicly. But Universal ultimately concluded that trying to force the issue could actually harm its bottom line, the person added.

The reason: Redbox has been successful in stocking its 35,400 kiosks with recent Warner releases such as "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas" and "J. Edgar" in as little as a week after they went on sale. Universal executives concluded that rather than seeing their movies become available in Redbox's kiosks earlier than they currently are, it was better to stick with the current arrangement.
Galen Smith, senior vice president of Redbox, said his company is still making a profit on the Warner discs it buys at retail and is prepared to continue with its current arrangement indefinitely. The company presumably would have taken the same approach with Universal, as Smith made clear that a wait longer than four weeks is not acceptable to Redbox.

"In order to have a strong relationship with a studio, we're willing to extend to 28 days, but we think that is the right amount for our business," he said.

Universal's decision is sure to frustrate executives at Warner Bros., who are tolerating a battle with Redbox that hurts their studio's bottom line because they are standing on a principle that they believe will be beneficial in the long run. If Universal had held its ground on the 56-day window, it might have increased the pressure on Redbox to cave.

Twentieth Century Fox's deal with Redbox, which also includes a 28-day delay, expires in 2013. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger recently said his studio intends to implement a 28-day delay soon as well. An agreement with Sony Pictures, which lets Redbox rent discs the same day they go on sale, expires in September.

Universal's agreement with Netflix expires in April. Warner successfully convinced Netflix to implement a 56-day delay on renting its DVDs through the mail. However, because it kept the 28-day window with Redbox, Universal may not be able to convince Netflix to accept a longer wait.


Does he have better things to do? Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone is skipping the company's annual meeting in New York next week. It's the first time in recent memory that the 88-year-old media mogul has skipped a shareholder gathering. The company said the decision wasn't health-related. Details from the Wall Street Journal. Redstone does have his priorities in order. While he'll miss the meeting, he will be present later in March when he gets a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, reported the Los Angeles Times.

SumnerRedstoneArrivesOscars
Photo: Sumner Redstone, center, arrives at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Feb. 26. Credit:  Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency 

Viacom Executive Chairman Sumner Redstone won't be attending his company's annual shareholders' meeting in New York next week. However, later this month, he will be staking out a spot on Hollywood Boulevard.

Redstone will be at the center of attention on March 30 when he receives his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. He will join the ranks of other past and present media moguls with their names forever emblazoned on the legendary Hollywood stretch including Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck.

Redstone, the 88-year-old controlling shareholder of both Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., has been making fewer public appearances in recent years. However, he did attend the 84th Academy Awards last Sunday, an event also staged on Hollywood Boulevard, about 8 miles from his home in the gated enclave of Beverly Park.

But he is not planning to make the cross-country trip to New York to attend next week's shareholders meeting, marking the first time in memory that Redstone will miss Viacom's annual gathering. Redstone's absence will be due to an "unavoidable conflict," Viacom spokesman Carl Folta said Thursday, declining to elaborate on the reason.

Instead, the man who once roared that "Viacom is me" will address shareholders in a videotaped message. Redstone's conflict, according to Folta, was "not health related."

Even though Redstone won't be there in person, he still will control the show. Redstone holds nearly 80% of Viacom's voting shares, so it is a safe bet that he will cast the votes necessary to retain his seat as executive chairman. In Viacom's most recent fiscal year, Redstone raked in $21 million in executive compensation — about $6 million more than he received in 2010.

Viacom includes such assets as MTV, VH-1, Comedy Central, BET, TV Land and the Hollywood-based movie studio Paramount Pictures.


A bone to pick. Walt Disney Co. is battling with Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory firm. At issue is Disney's decision to name its chief executive, Bob Iger, the company's chairman as well. ISS says Disney is reneging on a promise to have independent board leadership. Disney countered that it never made such a commitment. More from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Pinned down. WWE, the folks behind professional wrestling, has for years talked about launching its own cable network. But the New York Post reports those plans are "on the ropes." WWE, the Post said, wanted to have a channel launched by this spring.

The boss is back. Bruce Springsteen's latest CD, "Wrecking Ball," hits stores next week. Normally we steer clear of music reviews, but it is Friday and I'm still something of a Springsteen fan, so here's the USA Today take on the new release.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Kenneth Turan on "The Lorax." Betsy Sharkey on "Being Flynn."

-- Joe Flint and others

Follow me on Twitter. It's the right way to start the weekend. Twitter.com/JBFlint



No SOPA? Getting harder to slow on-line Pirates Down


Online Pirating Hub Upgrades File-Sharing System

The Pirate Bay is the biggest website on the Internet to find illegal movies, music, games and software. The notorious file pirating site has changed the way it works — making it harder to trace pirated files.

Funding plan for new UNLV stadium still relies on tax infusion



Image
Courtesy UNLV Now
Renderings of a proposed stadium on the UNLV campus.

The public-private partners behind a proposed on-campus stadium at UNLV say they will need tax money to build it, after all.

Last September, after the Legislature rejected a special tax district to fund the $2 billion stadium, dormitory and retail project, university officials and Majestic Realty Co. started working on a funding plan they said wouldn't require tax money.

In a project update to the Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents on Thursday, UNLV President Neal Smatresk outlined a new funding plan for construction of a 50,000- to 60,000-seat, closed-top stadium on the west side of the university's Maryland Parkway campus.

The stadium portion of the project is expected to cost $450 million to $500 million, including costs associated with moving displaced facilities from the construction site and practice fields on Harmon Avenue. The project also would require the purchase of some Clark County-owned land west of Swenson Street.

To fund the stadium construction, UNLV would need to raise $35 million per year for the next 20 years, Smatresk added.

"That should take your breath away," Smatresk told regents, adding he remained "ironclad" in his commitment not to use student tuition or general fund dollars to pay for the project.

The project would require four sources of funding, Smatresk said:
• Gifts and pledges from "founding partners" such as corporations, wealthy individuals and municipalities. There have been "a number of prominent entities who have stepped forward to offer support," Smatresk said, adding the “founding parties” would be a significant source of funding.
• Naming rights to the stadium, which may bring in $200 million to $300 million, Smatresk said.
• Future revenues, concessions, ticket sales and advertisements, which would be a smaller portion of the funding equation, Smatresk said.
• Finally, a tax-increment financing district, which would divert tax dollars in a legislatively approved area to be used for economic redevelopment or a special project. The stadium itself would not raise enough tax dollars, but public-private partners are hoping the stadium plus the mixed-use development of retail stores and restaurants would generate necessary funds.

Despite the project's setback last summer to secure the special tax district, university officials and builder-partners are hopeful they can sway public support for the project during the year until the next legislative session.

That calculus comes as the developers released preliminary revenue projections for the new stadium on Thursday.

Currently, the Thomas & Mack Center — with a capacity of 18,000 seats — draws $250 million annually in direct revenue for the state, excluding tax revenue, officials said.

With a UNLV stadium more than double, maybe triple, the size of the Thomas & Mack arena, developers say the stadium could attract larger events, and with them more tourists to the city. UNLV is hopeful the stadium would play host to 15 "major events" each year.

Developers say they conservatively project the stadium's revenue around $500 million annually from lodging, gaming and dining in the region.

"If you want this, you'll need to help us get it," said Craig Cavileer, a stadium developer and president of the Silverton resort. "It can't just be the university and Majestic. It has to be the community."

UNLV and Majestic Realty are expected to present finalized cost projections and funding plan by the June Board of Regents meeting. Construction on the stadium is expected to begin in late 2013.

Developers are still "imagineering" what the university dormitories and retail shops would look like. Renovating the Thomas & Mack Center would come later, Cavileer said.

FROM THE LAS VEGAS SUN (click here).