10 worst ideas of the week: Dec. 13, 2009

Pirates driving inflation, TSA employees create s­ecurity risk, groom can’t wait to update Facebook status, Santa Claus goes bad, and car poolers’ reward is in jeopardy.

1. Return to sender

Tax scams look like official government letters

The details: A company pulling a tax scam sent a fraudulent letter to San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting — offering a service his office provides for free in exchange for $189. A new law starting in January will specifically prohibit such solicitations, according to Ting. The documents are formatted to look like government documents, offering to help lower a home’s assessed value — and by extension, its tax bill — for a fee.

2. Pirate inflation

Somalia coast ­living costs driven up by pirate ransoms

The details: Prices are skyrocketing in Somalia’s coastal pirate bases, while alcohol, drugs and prostitution are becoming increasingly prevalent. The pirates stand to make tens of thousands of dollars from ransoms, and 11 ships with 264 crew members are currently being held hostage. Pirates can even buy luxury goods on credit while ransoms are being negotiated. They pay in dollars, don't bother to haggle and sometimes even leave their change — all previously rare behavior in this poverty-stricken nation.

3. Hires his boo

Sen. Max Baucus nominates his girlfriend for post

The details: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said his live-in girlfriend and former staffer Melodee Hanes was a “highly qualified prosecutor” who could have served his home state well. Baucus is one of the most influential figures in the ongoing health care overhaul effort. The Republican National Committee is demanding that the Senate Ethics Committee investigate Baucus’ inclusion of Hanes among three candidates he recommended to the White House for the U.S. attorney post.

4. Bad comparison

Reid draws fire for slavery remark

The details: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., drew criticism this week for comparing Republican opponents of health care reform efforts to those who sought to stall changes in slavery before the Civil War, as well as those who sought to block women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. Some Republicans called on Reid to apologize, while at least one Democrat described the remarks as “silly.”

5. Security leak

TSA employees post screening information online

The details: Some Transportation Security Administration employees were placed on leave and an investigation was launched after officials learned that guidelines for airport passenger screening were posted on the Internet. The information posted could be used to help sidestep security, officials said.

6. A wedding don’t

Groom interrupts his wedding to update his online status from the altar

The details: A Maryland groom created a viral story storm after he interrupted his wedding to update his Facebook and Twitter accounts from the altar. The man also posted a short video of the ceremony on the Internet. It showed him reaching into his pocket for his phone as the minister was about to pronounce the couple husband and wife.

7. Bah humbug

Man dressed as Santa Claus robs Pennsylvania bank

The details: Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, a man in Pennsylvania robbed a bank dressed as Santa Claus. The nonjolly man even brandished a silver revolver. We hope there were no kids in the bank. 

8. Information leak

Law enforcement accesses GPS data without warrant

The details: An audio recording of Sprint/Nextel’s electronic surveillance manager recently surfaced in which he admits that the company gave GPS location data about its customers to law enforcement more than 8 million times without getting a warrant or subpoena in advance. It also came to light that the government consistently obtains customer data from Internet Service Providers including telephone numbers dialed, text messages, e-mails, instant messages and Web pages browsed. Sprint responded by saying the number of individuals actually affected is probably in the thousands, and the 8 million figure refers to individual pings of GPS data.

9. Sticky fingers

Chinese woman surgically altered her fingerprints to dupe Japan’s immigration

The details: A Chinese national had surgery to change her fingerprints in order to make it easier to sneak into Japan. Police discovered the crime after noticing strange scars on her fingers. The 27-year-old woman had the pads of her fingertips on both hands removed and then regrafted onto the opposite hand. According to reports the woman paid 1,000,000 yuan or $14,600 for the procedure. The woman had previously been deported from Japan after her visa expired.

10. Costly crossing

Bay Bridge toll expected to jump for car poolers

The details: Car poolers who cruise for free across the Bay Bridge will likely be forced to pay $2.50 to cross the span as early as July. The increase in price is one of the several toll hikes recommended by area transportation authorities for all state-owned bridges in the region. If the plan is approved, starting in July the current $4 toll on the Bay Bridge will increase to $6 from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 3 to 7 p.m. during weekdays. The toll on the span would return to $4 during off-peak hours, and would bounce to $5 during the weekend.


Sinking ship

In what can only be described as a Big Mac-size problem, sales for the world’s largest fast-food chain have dropped two months in a row. In November, McDonald’s reported a 0.6 percent dip in sales at U.S. restaurants open at least a year. That followed October’s slight downtick of 0.1 percent. Overseas, Mickey D’s fared better, with sales up 0.6 percent in November. McDonald’s has been able to tread water during the recession with its dollar menu.


Dim bulb of the week

Who: Tiger Woods
Why: Why not?
What: Mistresses are coming out of the rough like Tiger blasting out of a sand trap. As the number zips past 13, Woods just seems to get more tawdry. Did he pay for liposuction? Were there more porn stars? Does his perfect smile now have a crack? If it sounds like a story made for tabloids, it certainly is. It is disappointing that the seemingly near-perfect golfer has turned his life into a punchline.

Niners shock Packers to advance to NFC Championship Game

Late-game blocked punt turned the game around

The downturn persists: Examiner analysis reveals that S.F.’s economy has a long road to recovery

‘If you don’t keep downtown a vibrant place, it has cascading consequences on all the neighborhoods’