February 2009 Archives

February 3, 2009

NASA and Google will form Singularity University at Moffett Field

A technology-focused school called Singularity University will open on the Moffett Field campus of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration this summer, the San Jose Business Journal has reported. 
The Mountain View school will focus on coordinating the latest advances in a number of fields to help solve problems such as global warning and energy needs along with famine and disease.  The school’s chancellor is Ray Kurzweil who wrote “The Singularity Is Near” in 2005.  The first session will be limited to 30 students but will then expand to 120 in the following year, the school said. In addition Singularity University plans to offer three-day and 10-day programs.  Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X Prize Foundation — which gives $10 million awards for scientific breakthroughs — will be vice chancellor and trustee. Executive director will be former Yahoo Inc. executive Salim Ismail.

Filed under Education and Training, Information Technology by

Wells Fargo planning lavish Las Vegas casino junkets

Wells Fargo & Co., which received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, is planning a series of corporate junkets to Las Vegas casinos this month, according to a report by AP and the San Francisco Chronicle. They have justified this by saying it is part of culture”. They won’t tell anyone what they did with our $25 billion, but as far as we know, they are still not using this money to help American companies:

Wells Fargo, once among the nation’s top writers of subprime mortgages, has booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister hotel, the Encore Las Vegas beginning Friday, said Wynn spokeswoman Michelle Loosbrock. The hotels will host the annual conference for company’s top mortgage officers.

The conference is a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous years have included all-expense-paid helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert in the Bahamas for more than 1,000 employees and guests.

“I was amazed with just how lavish it was,” said Debra Rickard, a former Wells Fargo mortgage employee from Colorado who attended the events regularly until she left the company in 2004. “We stayed in top hotels, the entertainment was just unbelievable, and there were awards — you got plaques or trophies.”

While the nation’s recession has led other banks, such as Bank of America, to cancel employee recognition outings, Wells Fargo has not.  “Recognition events are still part of our culture,” spokeswoman Melissa Murray said. “It’s really important that our team members are still valued and recognized.”

Corporate retreats have attracted criticism since the bank bailout last fall. Congress scolded insurance giant American International Group Inc. for spending $440,000 on spa treatments for executives just days after the company took $85 billion from taxpayers.  AIG has since canceled all such outings.

Beginning Feb. 25, Wells Fargo’s insurance division is hosting a 40-person team meeting at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.  Murray did not immediately have details about the size or cost of the events or what was planned….

Rooms at the Wynn and the Encore are consistently among the most expensive in Las Vegas. The $2.3 billion Encore opened in December as sister hotel to the Wynn. Its decor includes a 27-foot Asian dragon made from 90,000 Swarovski crystals and artwork by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. One of the restaurants features Frank Sinatra’s 1953 Oscar.  Both properties have high-end retail stores, including Manolo Blahnik at Wynn and Chanel at Encore.

Filed under Banking and Financial Services by

California now lowest credit rating in the United States

California has the lowest credit rating in the country after Standard & Poor’s cut its general obligation bonds one grade because of a record budget deficit, according to a report in the San Jose Business Journal we are now in worse shape then even hurricane ravaged Louisiana:

New York-based S&P said Tuesday it lowered the state’s $46 billion of full-faith-and-credit debt to A from A plus. The move bumps California down; it was previously tied with Louisiana. Gabriel Petek of S&P’s San Francisco office said the lowered rating “reflects our view of the state’s inability to reach an agreement on a mid-year budget revision and its rapidly eroding cash position.” California has had to delay $3.7 billion in some payments — including income tax refunds — because of the budget impasse.

Filed under California Economy, California Government, z9-Uncategorized by

February 11, 2009

Senator Yee Blasts UC for Latest Executive Pay Scandal

University of California President Mark G. Yudof apparently hasn’t been able to do much to curtail the culture of corruption that has gripped the UC since a series of outrageous scandals during his predecessor’s tenure. It has now been reported that another highly paid executive just left the UC’s Oakland office with a $100,000 severance check, then turned around and got a job down the street at their Berkeley Office for the same $200,400 salary. The executive aid who commands this high salary is Linda Morris Williams.  She had previously been awarded a $44,000 relocation allowance and a low-interest $832,500 home loan by then-UC President Robert Dynes. State Senator Leland Yee condemned the University of California in a opt-ed he wrote on Califoria Progress Report:

Clearly, there is a broken record at the UC. How many more scandals, oversight hearings, and new laws do we need to have before the University will finally clean up their act? It is truly unconscionable that they continue to mislead the taxpayers and students… There is absolutely no justification for these bloated salaries. The UC administration continuously violates the public trust by catering to the University’s elite rather than serving the students, faculty, and workers they are appointed to represent. The public deserves better from the UC administration.

Filed under California Government, California Legislature, University of California by

February 12, 2009

Tesla seeking $350 million loan from Federal Government

Tesla Motors Inc. said it has not been notified yet whether it will get a $350-million loan from the federal government, but expects word within four to five months.  A newsletter distributed Wednesday by the company caused confusion when CEO Elon Musk wrote, “I am excited to report that the Department of Energy informed Tesla last week that they expect to disburse funds … within four to five months.” Some took that to mean that the loan had been approved but the company said later that this isn’t the case.  Spokesperson Rachel Konrad said the Department of Energy hasn’t given final confirmation to any of the 75 entities that applied for the funds. “No one has gotten final confirmation,” she said. “That said, we’re very confident we’re going to get financing.”  Full story here.

Filed under Manufacturing, U.S. Government by

Forbes says Stockton is “America’s Most Miserable City”

Forbes has called the Central California city of Stockton, “America’s Most Miserable City” in a ranking of the 150 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S:

Stockton ranks in the bottom seven in four of the nine categories we looked at: commute times, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime. Only New York City has a higher income tax rate than what Stockton, and all California residents, are forced to pay.  Stockton was ground zero for the housing boom and now the subsequent bust. Home prices more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 and then came crashing down last year. Stockton had the country’s highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5%, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed property. Things are not looking much brighter in 2009 as housing prices are expected to fall another 36% on the heels of a 39% drop in 2008. Also, unemployment is expected to jump to 13.3% from 10.4%, according to economic research firm Moody’s Economy.com.

Stockton’s Mayor Ann Johnson, however, sounds like she is making a sincere attempt at leadership:

“We are engaging the entire community and encouraging everyone to get involved and help us find solutions that meet the needs of our community,” says Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston. “Volunteerism is encouraged, looking out for your neighbor, and taking personal responsibility where individuals can make a difference. We are partnering with all community organizations–schools, churches, non-profits– to provide support services and help individuals and families get through these difficult times.”

Filed under California Economy, Central Valley by

Wall Street Journal: “California’s Pain is Only Beginning”

The Wall Street Journal ran an article describing how thing might be getting pretty rough here:

As Sacramento squabbles over the state’s $42 billion deficit, Californians are getting a bitter taste of what’s to come after the steep budget cuts that are inevitable when legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally hammer out a deal… “Before it gets better, it’s going to get a lot worse,” said Joseph Valentine, director of Contra Costa County’s Department of Employment and Human Services. The department, which administers social services such as food stamps, has cut 12%, or $25 million, of its budget. It has managers answering reception-desk phones, and Mr. Valentine expects another round of cuts… While Sacramento talks, money is drying up in places like Contra Costa County, where 40,000 families have applied for 350 available slots for Section 8 vouchers — a federal subsidy that allows low-income families to rent in the private market. “The level of desperation is just heartbreaking,” said Joseph Villareal, executive director of the Contra Costa Housing Authority.

Filed under California Economy, California Government by

Worlds Largest Solar Deal?

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that a recent agreement between BrightSource Energy – developer of seven large solar plants planned for the California desert, and Southern California Edison may be the “world’s largest solar deal”:

Solar power’s explosive growth in California may have been stunted by the credit crisis and the recession, but the boom isn’t over yet.  In what could be the world’s largest solar deal to date, BrightSource Energy of Oakland announced Wednesday that it will sell Southern California Edison 1,300 megawatts of electricity from seven large solar plants planned for the California desert. That’s enough juice to light 845,000 homes, and it easily eclipses other recent deals signed by utilities here and abroad that are trying to expand their use of renewable power.  “It’s a significant statement by Southern California Edison in their commitment to renewable energy and BrightSource’s technology,” said John Woolard, BrightSource’s chief executive officer. “America and California have long called for clean renewable energy, and we look forward to working with Southern California Edison to meet this need.”  Full story here

Filed under Energy Industry by

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