Big Marijuana? Not Yet. Feds Still Block Corporate Pot.

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Not anytime soon
Big business has been dancing around marijuana for years.

Several would-be entrepreneurs have publicly voiced desires to be the "Starbucks of Marijuana," or the "Anheuser-Busch of marijuana," (with the undercover FBI agent who snared State Sen. Leland Yee using that same line, while posing as a pot businessman from Arizona).

Fears of a tobacco-industry-run legal marijuana market were also used -- by marijuana supporters, no less -- to defeat Prop. 19, California's most-recent legalization initiative, in 2010.

Yet capital and cannabis haven't quite sealed the deal. And they won't, not for some time, as Motley Fool points out.

Thank Uncle Sam for that.


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Privacy Groups File FTC Complaint to Stall Facebook's Acquisition of WhatsApp

Categories: Business, Tech

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When the world's no. 1 social network goes on a buying spree, the world of mobile apps and gadgetry -- and apparently, even aerospace technology -- is its oyster.

Unless, of course, government regulators crash the party.

That might happen to Facebook, right on the heels of its $19 billion acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp. News of the deal had barely hit the wires when privacy advocates began crying foul, arguing that WhatsApp, long deemed the "unFacebook" of social media apparati, would have to turn over its trove of phone numbers and address books to Facebook's giant commercial machine.

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Kaplan's Fades Into Oblivion

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Joe Eskenazi
Done and done
A troop of sturdily built, blue-shirted men cart a hulking mass of particle board out of the Market Street storefront and, on the count of three, heave it into a truck. Until the moment it leaves their hands it's a vestige of Kaplan's Surplus & Sport Goods, a 75-year-old mainstay of mid-Market and a family business on its fourth generation of Kaplan. 

With a splintering crash, the load shatters upon hitting the flatbed. And now it's junk. 

In the weeks and months leading to Kaplan's mid-February closure, the once-teeming repository of vintage odds 'n' ends took on an increasingly barren air. Popular goods weren't restocked, leaving only the truly bizarre, decades-long holdouts resting on the uncluttered shelves. Walking in felt, increasingly, like entering a world of the past revealed by receding oceans. 

Those walking in now won't get so far. Cathy Kaplan will politely, but firmly, tell you the place is closed and give you the boot. Glancing about, it's easy to believe her. The store has been picked clean of virtually everything of value; it resembles the hollow hall that just hosted the annual Looter's Society Convention. 

Kaplan, however, allows your humble narrator to peruse what's left. And there is a bit more than you'd think. 


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AirHelp: Silicon Valley StartUp Helps Passenger Recoup Cash for Canceled Flights (Update)

Categories: Business, Tech

Update, 1:10 p.m.: United Airlines responds (see bottom).

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AirHelp
Visual from the AirHelp video tutorial.
Few processes on Earth are more time-consuming and byzantine than filing a claim with an airline carrier -- even for passengers with good cause.

Ask Henrik Zilmer, irritated traveler-turned-amateur-claim-expert, who had an epiphany a couple years ago, after getting jettisoned from a Singapore Airlines flight to Denmark. After spending three months navigating a tangle of links and negotiating on the phone with airline representatives, he finally snagged an $800 check.

Zilmer's travails inspired him to co-found a new start-up, AirHelp, which helps other beleaguered travelers demand remittance. For a 25 percent cut, Zilmer and his staff do all the legwork and recoup big chunks of cash for their clientele.

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Bitcoin Bank Flexcoin Shutters After Hack

Categories: Business, Tech

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Just as San Francisco's Bitcoin community was sloughing off the damage wrought by last week's Mt. Gox closure -- and voicing eternal optimism about the future of the crypto-currency -- more bad news came down the pike.

On Tuesday, Canadian Bitcoin bank Flexcoin announced its own death, in light of a $600,000 hacker theft. The company told reporters at Reuters that it lacks the resources to stanch such massive bloodletting. It will store its remaining coins offline -- "cold storage," in Bitcoin patois, and return them to users.

San Francisco-based Bitcoin entrepreneur Marshall Hayner told SF Weekly that he hopes the Mt. Gox fiasco will induce federal regulators to create coherent security guidelines for Bitcoin repositories and exchanges. "That will create accountability," Hayner explained, adding that a system of checks and balances will provide recourse to any Internet investor whose balance sheet is suddenly wiped clean overnight.

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Weekend Shoppers Take Note: Save One Whole Cent on Giants Jersey

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Such a bargain!
A penny saved is a penny earned. And, at a San Francisco-area store that shall remain tactfully nameless, shoppers can, quite literally, save one whole cent on their clothing purchase. 

Four years back, your humble narrator noticed this very store offering a similarly enticing sale on sporting paraphernalia. But for a different team: 

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"Emperor Norton Bay Bridge" Paraphernalia Now For Sale

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Elevating the discussion...
"Spineless, out-of-town politicians named my bridge after San Francisco's most notorious influence peddler and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

Sounds like a business opportunity. Indeed, the one thing missing thus far from the sordid saga of the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bay Bridge was a mercantile element. And now that's been solved.

Bob Cooper, a man who once made puppets for George Lucas until being replaced by a computer and once tried to run one for San Rafael City Council until being told only sentient puppets may attain elected office has launched EmperorNortonBayBridge.com, a site hawking various and sundry items emblazoned with the moniker of San Francisco's most beloved drunken lunatic.

"Emperor Norton was a businessman," notes Cooper. "What was missing from this equation has been merchandise."

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San Francisco Bulls Remain on Very Thin Ice

Categories: Business, Sports
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Joseph Schell
It's been a rough road for Bulls coach and president Pat Curcio
Last week, the San Francisco Bulls minor-league hockey team leaked news to the press every bit as pleasant as a slapshot to the dome: Barring a quick-turnaround sale to out-of-town investors who'd move the team elsewhere, the not-quite 2-year-old franchise would implode. Coach and president Pat Curcio told the press the Bulls could fold as soon as ... now

Calls to the team office in the Cow Palace reached employees still working hard and selling tickets. News of the team's imminent demise was "taken out of context," they said. 

Hardly. A terse note from team CEO Angela Batinovich this morning all but confirmed there'll be no Season Three at the Cow Palace -- and, perhaps, not much more of Season Two: 

During the ECHL Mid-Season Meeting, the Commissioner and Board of Governors granted our request for additional time to complete negotiations that would allow for the transfer of the San Francisco Bulls to a new ownership group. 
 
We are hopeful that these negotiations will be completed within the allotted time, and we currently have no intention to cancel any games.

So, the Bulls are scrambling to unload the team to out-of-towners, purportedly in Oakland or (more likely) Fresno. That much is known. Here's what we don't know: 


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Surge Pricing: Taxis Forbidden From Gouging -- By Law

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A surge of Taxi nostalgia. That's the only legal Taxi surge you'll see today.
There's been a lot of discussion of late regarding Uber's "surge pricing" model, which has come to define that company much as goofy pink mustaches define Lyft. 

"Surge pricing" is, essentially, a euphemism for profiteering. When you think about it, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's smarmy tutorial about how to avoid his outfit's built-in gouging is a bit like a werewolf patiently explaining to his victims how best to be minimally ravaged on a full moon. 

And New Year's Eve promises to be the full moon of surge pricing. Lyft is getting in on the act, too.  

Pray for calm weather: Uber, bless them, actually jacks up its prices in the rain. It recently charged Toronto customers an arm and a leg during flood conditions; in Kalanick's ark, only animals sophisticated enough to acquiesce to high-tech gouging are marching in at all, let alone two-by-two. 

So, with gouging and surge pricing and the price of mediocre champagne on everyone's minds, San Franciscans' inboxes have recently been besieged by coupons from something called "InstantCab" promising surge-pricing-free rides tonight. 

The city's taxi boss, however, is not amused, and has a pledge of her own: Pending legal action against InstantCab.   



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Uber Explains How to Not Get Gouged By Uber This New Year's Eve

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Travis Kalanick dispensing pro-tips.
Given the slew of complaints about Uber's surge pricing during DreamForce -- when fares climbed as high as $45 for a trip downtown -- the company had little choice but to tackle the issue in its latest charm offensive.

Surge pricing isn't going anywhere. The combination of inclement weather, back-to-back holidays, and downtown carousing has just been too lucrative for Uber to pass up. Not to mention the technology startup is committed to its free-market ethos, which favors pure supply-and-demand economics.

Yet, as a sort of palliative, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick offered a few "pro-tips" for riders who want to dodge the high prices this New Year's Eve.

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