Stupid ways to die, a continuing series

There’s an old joke that condo politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.

Not always the case.

From Bloomberg News, a story about a man who tried to prevent the condo from towing his car off the grass and paid with his life.

Words to the wise from Ken Rutherford

Ken Rutherford is a well-known name in the precious metals business. He makes and sells the Fisch instrument, a simple but effective tool that tests coins (by seeing whether they fit through calibrated go/no go slots and by a balance test).

He is also the author of a guide to counterfeits published over 25 years ago and revised several times. Here is what he said back in 1984:

The silver and gold business is crazy. Investors send $10,000, $20,000, even $40,000 to firms they’ve never even heard of and whose credit they’ve never checked. They just close their eyes, lick and send the envelopes and send their checks winging away.

Times change. Since Rutherford wrote that, gold scams have migrated to the Internet, and today people click their money away to unknown URLs; or, in a similar but also risky scenario, send their gold (coins, bullion, jewelry or scrap) to some address, from which they hope somebody will send them cash.

Rutherford recommended dealing only with established dealers. That’s still good advice.

He also recommends, when buying gold coins, to TEST EVERY ONE. Still good advice. But hard to do over the Internet.

An honest gold seller in India

Bloomberg News has a story about T.S. Kalyanaraman, who shook up the gold jewelry business in India by putting pricetags on his products and teaching his customers how to test gold themselves.

Now he’s worth a billion (dollars not rupees) and is the first person in his state of Kerala to own a private jet.

India is the biggest market for gold. Brides are weighed down with gold jewelry, and it is considered auspicious to buy gold on religious holidays (often then presented to a temple).

“We don’t find it tough to sell gold; people love to buy jewelry,” Kalyanaraman said. “The only way to make your wife, sister or lover happy is to give them something that they love.”

In a separate Bloomberg story

Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World and Bollywood star, is a spokeswoman for Kalyan Jewelers

, the government of India is raising the import duty on gold by 50% to help cover its current account deficit. The government feels it can manage this because the demand, and consequently the price, for gold has been rising, through good times and bad.

India, the world’s largest bullion buyer, increased taxes on gold imports to reduce a record current-account deficit and moderate demand for the precious metal that’s rallied for 12 straight years.

The duty on gold and platinum imports was raised to 6 percent immediately from 4 percent, Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. The tariff will be reviewed if imports moderate, he said. Gold climbed after the announcement.

Increased taxes may reduce gold demand in Asia’s third- largest economy after prices jumped 7.1 percent in 2012 as investors and central banks boost purchases. About 80 percent of India’s current-account deficit, the broadest measure of trade, tracking goods, services and investment income, is due to gold imports, according to the Reserve Bank of India.

Star gazing: Rick to get hitched

“Pawn Stars” honcho Rick Harrison is getting married to his longtime girlfriend — who he has said will never be on the show —  on July 21. This Los Angeles Times story says Chumlee will be the ringbearer.

No word on whether Elvis will officiate. It is in Vegas, after all.


Maui clout

Twenty-five years ago, Maui County was riding high in the state Legislature. Mamoru Yamasaki was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, and Joe Souki was speaker of the House.

State government thought it was rich, because of $500 million a year in payments from Duty Free Shoppers, and the political word was that this would be the last time that Maui, or any Neighbor Island, would be so well placed to get state funding for local projects. Once the unusual combo of Yama and Joe ended their dominance, Oahu would take over.

And for a generation, so it seemed.

Then, one month ago, it looked like 1988 all over again. Well, almost. Souki was slated to be speaker again, after some years on the outs with Democratic House leadership. Yama had passed away, but young Shan Tsutsui would continue as Senate president.

Then Dan Inouye died. Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate, and Tsutsui accepted an appointment to replace him as lieutenant governor.

So, although Maui County came within days of regaining its legislative clout, suddenly it dissolved.

Of course, DFS is out of the picture and the state no longer thinks of itself as flush. Gil Keith-Agaran, who is nominated to move up to the Senate; leaving a hole in the House leadership where he had a shot at majority leader.

So it remains to be seen how well Maui County will do in the jockeying for state funding, especially for CIP (capital) projects. Keith-Agaran notes that since the days of the Yama-Joe duo, the budget has been restuctured so that CIP is rolled into the overall spending program.

Maui County would dearly like to return to the days when the state picked up a big part of water, solid waste and sewage treatment obligations; but the outlook for that looks slightly less rosy than it did late in 2012. 


Torn limb from limb

If it seems like there have been a lot more power outages since Thanksgiving than in a normal early winter, you’re right, there have been. Today alone, MECO reports outages in Molokai and Lahaina; and yesterday there were more power failures Upcountry.

Some of this is unavoidable. When winter comes, rain returns and salt spray that has built up deposits on insulators during the dry season (even, sometimes, well away from the ocean) becomes wet and “flashes over.” A program of washing down insulators can help but has never entirely eliminated this source of power outages.

Most outages this year, though, apparently are from falling limbs. Some of this is beyond MECO’s control. Today the county closed Piiholo Road because eucalyptus trees had blown down across the road.

However, MECO used to have an aggressive program to identify which trees would, within the next five years, grow big enough to be vulnerable to winds and likely to interfere with power lines. Lumberjacks went out and preemptively removed and reduced those trees.

It looks like MECO needs to ramp up that preventive maintenance.

The newest pawn on TV entry

“Hardcore Pawn Chicago” has begun showing, in case you cannot get enough via the original Detroit-based “Hardcore Pawn” or “Pawn Stars.”

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, Royal Pawn is in a tough neighborhood:

Royal Pawn Shop gets the occasional odd item, including a fake leg and dentures, but it’s the people who walk into the store that make the environment unpredictable. Wayne said the customers vary from crack addicts, gang members and mobsters to athletes (the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler visited in September), doctors and a priest who wanted to pawn a cross.

One thing about working at Kamaaina Loan, we don’t see a lot of mobsters. Maybe that’s why we don’t have our own show yet.

Tribune photo of Randy and Wayne Cohen