Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let Me Give Thanks As We Close Out the First Decade of the New Millennium

My thanks at the end of the first decade of the New Millennium

To my incredible wife and family – Any woman who could remain married to me for 29 years, 4 months, and 1 day must be a saint and Goddess

To my wife and God – Having been the son of a single mom, and never having met my father, to my wife and God for two great sons

To the people of America who overcame centuries of racism to elect President Barack Obama and Governor Deval Patrick

To the 537 voters in Florida who provided the margin of victory for President Bush – As every day goes by, we realize how fortunate America was not to have the insufferable Al Gore as President

To President Bush – President Obama will inadvertently rehabilitate you

To Vice President Cheney for continuing to speak out and fight the good fight. Vice President Chaney may be our Winston Churchill

To President Jimmy Carter for converting me into a conservative

To Senator John McCain for bringing Governor Sarah Palin into national prominence

To General David Petreas

To the voters of California for recalling Governor Gray Davis - Governor Schwarzenegger, for all his faults, is a dramatic improvement

To the Jesuits of the University of San Francisco – As every day goes by, I value more and more the Jesuit education

To San Francisco – I may make fun of the political excesses of the city, but I was born, raised, and educated in San Francisco. I love San Francisco and am honored to be from one of the world’s greatest cities.

To California – My true home for this son of California

To my mom and San Francisco for teaching me tolerance

To the Sierra Club

To the University of Michigan School of Law, Dean Francis A. Allen, Professor Roger Cunningham and Professor Peter O. Steiner for having faith in me, investing in me, and mentoring me

To Professor Joseph A. Sax for teaching me Environmental Law and Natural Resources

To Lloyd Carr for winning a national football championship at Michigan during my lifetime

To the great state of Michigan – may better times come soon

To Professor J. Thomas McCarthy, after whom I have modeled my teaching

To Ohio Northern University for my first teaching job

To Ada, Ohio for educating me on the values, mores, and strengths of the heartland of America

To John Riordan – for hiring me as a law clerk at Darwin & Riordan and dumping the first case on me – involving sex discrimination in the airline industry

To Jim Walsh, District Counsel of the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers, who hired me as a 100 day consultant in 1976 to research an Indian Law problem

To Washington State and Puget Sound – for experiencing God’s Country

To Western New England College, Dean Howard I. Kalodner, and Professors George Thompson and John J. O’Connor, Jr. for rescuing my career

To Don Dunn

To Massachusetts for its history, beauty, and traditions

To Springfield, Massachusetts and the sense of community

To New York – I love the City, State and New Yorkers from my first presence in New York in 1971. My love is even greater since my wife is a New Yorker

To President Jim Doti and Chapman University for welcoming me into the Chapman community

To my colleagues at Chapman University for electing me four years ago as their President of the Faculty Senate, the crowning point of my academic career and the acceptance of the young law school by the historic university

To all the students I have taught over the past 37 years – All the young dynamic students who keep my mind, heart, and soul young. I teach to give back. Teaching has never been a job

To all my colleagues over the years -I have learned something from everyone of you

To my young colleague, Deepa Badrinarayana, who invited me to give a talk in New Delhi last summer, allowing me to visit the Taj Mahal, the second most beautiful thing I have ever seen, my wife being the first

To the internet for feeding my ego by allowing me to publish an idiosyncratic and eclectic, irregular blog, which I am presumptuous enough to think more people read than my law review articles

To my friends and colleagues of the University of Michigan Alumni of Orange County, who welcomed me into their company as they do all Michigan alums. Go blue!

To the OC – I wished I could have moved here 2 decades earlier

To Dr. Paul Vollucci, and the other doctors, nurses, and staff of Kaiser for keeping me going the past couple of years, as my asthma worsened and my body experienced the normal wear and tear of the aging process

To America, the greatest country in world history

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lessons From Christmas and Delta 253

One of these days Al Qaeda will get it right. They will succeed in blowing up an airplane in midflight.

At least President Obama almost got it right earlier today when he called it a “catastrophic failure” and a “systemic breach.”

Of course, neither the President nor his Administration use the phrase “War Against Terror.” Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security refers to terrorist acts as “man caused disasters.” Her initial response to the failed attack was that the system worked. Yesterday President Obama referred to the attack as an “isolated incident,” and spent more time talking about Iran. None dare use the word terrorist, not even against the Fort Hood shooter.

The attacker is being treated as a criminal. Thus, he gets his Miranda rights, an attorney, and the ability to clam up.

The Bush Administration would have sent him to Gitmo, water boarded him to secure valuable information about future attacks, and then sent him before a military tribunal.

Actually they wouldn’t have, because he was arrested at Detroit Airport rather than seized overseas.

President Roosevelt would have tried him before a military commission and then had him hung. That was World War II when the Supreme Court was less squeamish.

The initial response that we are now to sit with our hands folded together on our lap during the last hour of the flight with nothing else on our lap is utterly stupid. Any bomber could easily set off the bomb in mid-flight, shortly after takeoff, or in the bathroom.

We were told years ago that suspicious activity includes buying a one way ticket for cash without checked baggage. That didn’t raise any alarm bells this time.

I can understand a Muslim flying to Detroit to see relatives in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the highest Arab population in the United States. The Dearborn Muslims though are mostly from Iraq. A Nigerian Muslim flying to Detroit should raise alarms.

He should be profiled.

Did he or did he not have a passport? Some confusion exists on that point.

I flew through Amsterdam last summer, and was impressed with the professionalism and comprehensiveness of the security.

However, no system can overcome human error, poor judgment, and complacency.

Our homeland security apparatus is still a bureaucratic nightmare, seemingly having learnt little from 9/11.

The terrorists will always be testing our security.

As for an isolated instance, let’s look at the history. Mideast terrorists have a history of hijacking and blowing up airplanes.

On December 11, 1994 Ramzi Yousef (Yes, that Ramzi Yousef) placed a bomb on Filipino Flight 434. The bomb blew up on the next leg, killing a passenger and blowing a hole in the fuselage. The plane made an emergency landing.

On January 6, 1995 a fire in a Philippines apartment drew emergency responders. They discovered advanced plans to blow up 12 airplanes over the Pacific.

Let us not forget the goofy looking Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium Bomber. Luck stopped those attacks.

Let us also not forget that the terrorists are patient and learn from their mistakes. Why we therefore revealed that the Christmas bombing failed because of a faulty detonator makes no sense. Luck stopped the attack on Delta 235.

Full body scans are better than luck.

After his arrest in Pakistan, Ramzi Yousef said about the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing “This is only the beginning.”

They only have to succeed once; we must be eternally vigilant as they continue to test our defenses and fortitude.

We cannot rely upon luck to defeat these determined, smart terrorists.

Neither can the democrats. Ever since Vietnam the American public has not trusted the Democrats on national security. The Democrats failed this small test. The next one may be truly tragic.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Ford Outlived the Toyota

The Toyota gave out before the Ford. Would you believe the Toyota died before the Ford? What are the odds?

I bought a 1999 Toyota Camry CE almost 11 years ago. My wife bought a Ford Focus wagon two weeks later. She fell in love with it the first time she laid eyes on it.

The Focus was a problem child from the get go. It was subject to 5-6 recalls, had to have its brakes replaced within 15,000 miles, and the rear hatch often doesn’t latch. The Ford gave meaning to the sage advice: “Don’t buy an American car made on Monday, Friday, the first day of hunting season, or the first year of production.”

Ford stood for "Fix or repair daily" or "Found on road dead."

We should have known something was wrong when Jacques Nasser became President of Ford in 1989 and dropped the advertising tag line “Quality is Job One.”

The Toyota had a few warranty problems with the power windows, but it was smooth driving from then on. The Toyota was a winner. Japanese quality versus Detroit quality, or why there are 11 Toyota dealers and 4 Lexus dealers versus only 6 dealers for Chrysler Corporation in all of Orange County.

Once upon a time, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s “Made in Japan” was a pejorative.

Then came the tiny Sony transistor radio, the Honda motorcycle, and the small Toyota Corona. “Made in Japan” denotes high quality today. “Made in Detroit” has the opposite image.

Japan instituted the prestigious Deming Award in 1950 for quality. Professor W. Edwards Deming was an American expert who preached his statistical process control methods to the Japanese beginning in 1950. American businesses had no interest in his ideas until decades later.

And the American equivalent of the Deming award is ????

Congress in 1987 created the Malcolm Baldrige Award. It continues to languish in obscurity in America.

Three and a half years ago the Camry was turned over to Number I Son and the Focus to Number 2 Son. The choice was obvious. #2 Son was in Michigan and the Ford could receive TLC from its birthplace. The Toyota was rugged; it didn’t need an umbilical cord.

The Toyota died last week in beautiful, sunny California. Technically, it didn’t die; it simply developed a strange engine noise, deep inside the engine. The estimate was $2,500 to pull the engine out and diagnose the problem, plus whatever the costs were to repair it, or replace it either with a rebuilt engine or a junkyard engine. Maybe the service department didn’t want to deal with it, or was encouraged to sell a new car, but with $1,800 in the Toyota three months ago, it was time to say Sayonara to the Camry.

The Toyota was put to sleep/scrap in junkyard heaven.

And the Focus? It’s now purring in Pennsylvania.

What are the odds?

A few caveats though. First, the Toyota had 107,000 miles on it, the Focus half that, and #I Son is tough on cars. However, Toyotas are supposed to last and most of the miles were highway miles. The Focus’ miles were stop and go city driving, with the past 3 ½ years in the Frost Belt and the past 1 ½ years often on unpaved roads to construction sites.

Now we learn that Toyota has major quality control issues due to rapid overexpansion, and that Ford performs better in the J. D. Powers studies than Toyota.

What are the odds?

The tortoise can beat the hare.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to Assemblyman Anthony Adams

California Assemblyman Anthony Adams just received the biggest Christmas present of his life. The drive to recall him from office failed.

California requires a 2/3 vote for budgets approval. Eventhough the Democrats have large majorities in both houses of the California Legislature, they are three short of 2/3 in each house. Thus, they need Republican votes to pass a budget.

Six Republicans, three each from the Assembly and Senate, voted with the Democrats in February to raise taxes by $16 billion for 2 years. The income tax was raised as was the sales tax, while the car tax almost doubled.

Surly voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2 year extension of the tax increases, and elements of the Republican Party were outraged at the Governor and the “Sacramento Six” for supporting the tax increases.

Anthony Adams was elected to the Assembly in 2006. His District straddles Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. He had pledged in his campaigns not to raise taxes. Yet, he and the five others did.

Adams was singled out for special opprobrium, as he appeared the weakest politically of the six.

Former California Republican Chair Mike Schroeder launched a recall campaign against Adams. Schroeder had earlier successfully run two recall campaigns against Republicans who had strayed from the true path.

Success in the Anthony Adams recall would send a message to any other Republicans who might think of tax apostasy. They’ll be toast.

The afternoon talk radio hosts, John and Ken, jumped aboard the recall campaign. Rallies and fundraisers were held to dump Adams, 58,384 signatures were submitted to the Secretary of State in support of the recall. Only 35,825 signatures were needed to place the recall on the ballot.

Adams' fate looked dire. Anthony Adams is far from being a rocket scientist. So far he has failed the California bar Exam 4 times, so he had to realize his odds were slim.

However, less than half of the signatures qualified as valid. So eager were Republicans to recall Adams that they signed the recall petitions although they were not registered voters in his district. Only 24,579 signatures were estimated to be valid.

Mike Schroeder announced that they would drop the recall and concentrate on defeating him in June in the Republican primary for reelection.

Schroeder incidentally is from Orange County, and not San Bernardino County.
His reputation as an astute, power figure is rapidly shrinking, His favorite sheriff, Mike Carona of Orange County, is headed to jail, and his efforts three years ago to dump liberal Professor Erwin Chermerinsky as the founding Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law failed miserably.

And so did the warning to Republicans against voting for tax increases!

Governor Schwarzenegger recently nominated one of the Sacramento Six, Senator Abel Maldonado, to be Lt. Governor. The Democrats in the Legislature must act soon on the nomination, which does not require a 2/3 vote.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dave Bing and Mark Ridley-Thomas: A Contrast in Public Servants.

Dave Bing was elected mayor of the once great city of Detroit last year.

Mark Ridley-Thomas was elected to the Board of Supervisors of the struggling County of Los Angeles last year.

Dave Bing has no illusions about the task he faces. Detroit, once America’s fourth largest city in 1950 with almost 1,849,568 residents, has shrunk to about 900,000 today. The city has been declining for 4 decades, the catalyst being the riots of 1967. Between White flight followed by Black flight, and the decline of Detroit, the industry, the City is but a shadow of itself.

The remaining residents of Detroit are essentially dependent upon private pensions or government funds for their survival, through either employment or transfer payments.

If Detroit were part of a business, the Board of directors would liquidate it.

That is not an option for government. Neither the federal government nor the state of Michigan can walk away from Detroit.

But they can’t save it either.

The city of Detroit must reinvent itself. The entrepreneurial spirit must rise again.

Dave Bing is a realist. He understands the problems. His first goal is simply to stop the hemorrhaging, just to stabilize the budget, which shows negative revenue growth and a $325 million deficit.

The city is paralyzed by a culture of entitlement and ever rising union wages. City workers are represented by 17 unions with over 50 separate bargaining units, some with less than 100 members. Each has a president whose salary is paid by the city.

Mayor Bing is not anti-union, but he knows he must disabuse the public sector unions of their expectancy of guaranteed jobs with great benefits. A job at 90% pay is better than no job at 100%. The UAW did not make the adjustment in time.

Entrepreneurs are strangled by bureaucrats and taxes. He’s trying to find a way to cut through the red tape.

Dave Bing is not doing it for the glory. He’s already achieved one of the highest honors in basketball – being selected as one of the 50 top NBA players, having played 10 years for the Detroit Pistons.

He’s not doing it to get rich. He’s done that in the private sector. He founded Bing Steel when he left basketball, and transformed it into the successful Bing Group.

He’s doing it to give back. His goal is “to bring the city back.”

Dave Bing is a true public servant.

Symbolically, his office furniture is Spartan, and he draws no salary. He stated “there’s no money to be wasted on redecoration.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a career politician who’s clueless.

He has held political office since 1991, sitting on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2001, the California State Assembly from 2002 to 2006, the California State Senate from 2006-2008, and then jumping to the County Board last year.

His major opponent in the Board race was a fellow city councilman, former Police Chief Bernard Parks. Chief Parks has been a dedicated public servant his adult life. As Police Chief, he cleaned up, reformed, and strengthened the LAPD in the aftermath of the failures of his two predecessors. He incurred the wrath of the police union though, and the public employee unions poured millions into Ridley-Thomas' election.

So why did Ridley-Thomas jump to the County Board of Supervisors? Term limits, the powers of incumbency, and a $3 million slush fund.

The California assembly has a six year limit of three 2 year terms and the Senate eight years of two 4 year terms. The County Board of Supervisors has a 12 year limit, consisting of 3 four year terms.

Incumbents are hardly ever defeated for reelection.

Each supervisor has a $3 million annual allowance for staff and office expenses. Any part of those left over goes into a discretionary fund, which can be donated as grants to non-profits. In other words, taxpayer funds are given out as charitable contributions by the 5 supervisors in their discretion. The fund is essentially a slush fund since no supervisor dares question how another uses the monies.

Ridley-Thomas received approval for $707,000 in office renovations, which would exceed $1 million when new furniture, out of a different account, was thrown in.

One million dollars in office remodeling when the county budget is $36 million in the hole this year, and an estimated $173 million next year.

One million when the county budget dropped 2.1% from 2008-09 with 1,720 positions being cut.

One million dollars when the LA County courts have cut $140 million from the $850 million budget.

One million dollars when Los Angeles County has lost 340,000 jobs since January 2008.

Nothing is wrong with his office. It’s just that it’s in oak, and he wants cheery. He threw a walkin closet into the redesign as well as a kitchenette for the staff.

The crusade against the office renovation was led by the dynamic talk radio duo of John and Ken on KFI, ABC 7, and the Los Angeles Daily News, which called it “remodelgate.”

The funding was reversed three days ago on the motion of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. It had become politically indefensible.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ problems is not per se the office remodeling as the budget collapses. The problem is one of attitude. He does not regard the public funds as a trust for the people, but as a piggy bank to be used for the benefit of the public employees and elected officials. He is all too representative of the political class corrupted by power, Lord Acton’s power.

Public corruption is bad, but more has been lost and squandered by "public servants" who believe that the public serves their needs.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What is the Critical Vote that Restructures Health Care, 1/6 of the Nation's Economy, 60-40, 9,162, 3,953, 3,128, 325, or 1?

We are witnessing an historic moment in American history. The Senate is approving the health care reform package by the minimum vote margin necessary to invoke cloture and stave off a filibuster, 60-40. All 58 Democrats and two independents are voting to invoke cloture and all 40 Republicans are opposed.

Anything else than 60 Democrats and independents, and the Bill would be in trouble. We can assume that the Democrats would try to persuade Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine to go along if they needed their votes. The final bill would look different than the current one to get their vote.

If the Senate majority were 55-45, the health care Reform Bill would probably either be dead on arrival in the Senate or a truly bipartisan compromise.

Let’s see how the Democrats got their margin in the Senate, supposedly as the result of landslide victories in 2006 and 2008. The landslide was actually more of a trickle than tsunami, but every vote counts.

Incumbent Republican George Allen of Virginia was comfortably in the lead for reelection in 2006, and favored as the conservative Republican going into the 2008 Presidential election. Unfortunately, he had a “Macaca” moment. He referred to S. R. Sidarth, a campaign volunteer for Jim Webb, his opponent, as a “Macaca,” a slur for persons of Indian descent in America. The Washington Post, which has strong influence in Northern Virginia, pilloried Senator Allen for his racism.

Senator Allen lost by 9,162 votes out of over 2.3 million votes cast. Senator Webb received slightly less than 50% of the vote. That’s hardly a landslide.

Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana also lost reelection in 2006. He suffered from chronic hoof and mouth disease, which is neither good for cattle nor politicians in Montana, and was also tarred by the Jack Abramoff scandals. He lost reelection to John Tester by 3, 128 votes. That’s hardly a landslide.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska lost his reelection bid in 2008 by 3,953 votes to Mark Begich. The Republican Senator with “The Bridge to Nowhere” had been indicted for corruption and then convicted on 7 counts the week before the November election.

A federal judge later threw out the convictions for prosecutorial misconduct, and the Justice Department subsequently dropped the charges.

Former Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan asked in 1987, after being acquitted of charges of collusion with the Mafia, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

Which office does Senator Ted Stevens go to get his reputation back, and which office does he go to get his Senate seat back?

Senator Begich received less than 48% of the vote. That’s hardly a landslide.

And then we have Al Franken, a Harvard educated, tax dodging comedian, defeating incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman for reelection in Minnesota in 2008. Senator Coleman was leading on election night by 215 ballots, but then the recount and canvassing corrections gave Senator Franken a 325 vote victory out of roughly 3 million ballots cast. Senator Franken received led than 42% of the vote.

That’s hardly a landslide, but a clear victory for Acorn, which in the preceding Minnesota election, got its man, Mark Ritchie, elected Secretary of State.

Finally, we have Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switching his party registration in April 28, 2009 from Republican to Democrat. The political weather vane figured he could win the general election in Pennsylvania, but would probably lose the Republican primary to former Congressman Pat Toomey. Thus the switch.

The irony is that Senator Specter may lose the Democratic nomination to Congressman Joe Sestak, and in the current mode of Pennsylvania voters, the general election if he gets past the primary.

I feel for Senator Specter in his Last Hurrah. He’s been an independent voice on many issues, and showed great courage in fighting cancer, but now he must toe the liberal line to have a chance for reelection.

Senator Specter is hardly a landslide.

The Senate margin is 60-40, but it could just as easily be 55-45. No landslide there, but the only vote that matters now is 60-40.

Ode to Admissions


Labor Day weekend; the freshman checked into his dorm. The senior year of high school is over – the campus visits, informational sessions, college fairs, SAT, SAT II and AP’s, Kaplan, Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Reports, Fiske, FAFSA’s, Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, Plus Loans, Sallie Mae, counselors, recommendations, grade inflation, applications, acceptances, rejections, surprises, disappointments and senioritis are history on this hot, humid Midwest day. Oh, but what a year it was, with many lessons for admissions staffs.

Over 110 unsolicited mailings poured in from scores of colleges, active duty military, and reserves. From postcards to impressive catalogs, jucos to Ivy League, state colleges to research universities, Pac Ten to Big Ten, party schools (they don’t say that, but we know) to solid academic institutions, and trade schools to jock schools, the mailings filled the mailbox. Even more followed applications and acceptance letters. Every school looked great, possessed solid academic credentials, had an impressive student body, beautiful campus (I once taught at a law school which managed to highlight the only tree on the temporary, asphalt strip mall location), perfect weather, distinguished professors who love to teach, low student faculty ratios, high financial aid with no mention of tuition and fees, and prominent alumni.

But mostly for naught. Only universities in the Tuition Exchange Program merited a second glance. We never loaded the AOL look alike cd-roms, which did not say: “free game enclosed”

The mailings are edificating. Universities purchase names in bulk, and then initiate the deluge without cross checking their internal data bases. One picturesque New England college, located in a historic industrial city, sent 8 separate mailings, including one labeled “It’s not too late.” It was; it was sent as bulk mail in March, and arrived in mid-April. The school emphasized its beautiful campus, sound academic programs and historic community (Think Basketball Hall of Fame). We’re in California; what do we know?

I taught at this diamond in the rough for 18 years, and married the Associate Director of Public Relations. We fled after the fabled ‘94 and ‘96 Winters from Hell.

Of course, my current employer sent three “personalized” form letters (true oxymorons), including a wonderful letter from the Dean of Letters and Sciences, even though the school does not offer engineering, my son’s express interest. I complimented the Dean on the quality of her letter. My oldest son was a graduating senior at the school, and I know the outstanding Director of Undergraduate Admissions. Forget about academic prominence when your own university doesn’t recognize you.

Worse than not cross-matching is cross-merging data bases. My Jesuit alma mater snail mailed my son, and emailed me an invitation to my freshman orientation in a “Unique Living Learning Community.” (Six and a half years of Jesuit education and I still can’t figure that one out).

Advice for Frost Belt, Rain Belt, and Flyover Country colleges is that if California teenagers have not responded after two solicitations, they will not leave the sun, surf and shades for the snow, rain, or wheat fields at your magnificent university. Save your postage.

Schools should check the message they are sending. Two religious universities promised to enter applicants into a lottery for a computer or Jeep Liberty, but unfortunately not eternal salvation. The admissions process is always a gamble, but do we want to broadcast that fact?

Mixed messages may follow the large envelope. Number one on my son’s list was a public university known for engineering. It was the first to send an acceptance, but in history – not engineering. Then came the inevitable flood of solicitous letters from the President, Provost, Dean, Chair, etc. (Trust me, you won’t see these letters again until the alumni fund raising drive.)

The Chair’s letter attached the alumni newsletter emphasizing the adverse effects of retirements and budget cuts on the history department. The school also offered no scholarship. Strike three and it fell to last on the list.

Open houses should be meaningful. Driving or flying long distances (anything over 30 minutes) for the pleasure of a bright, enthusiastic, perky, intelligent, informative, undergrad leading a 1 ½ half hour walking tour of the outside of buildings, with an occasional peek into a showplace foyer or auditorium, brings up the obvious question. What are they hiding?

Physical impressions are important. Four years ago on a similar long drive, short open house, my wife noticed a plethora of beer cans scattered throughout the dorms at a distinguished university. Do the students party that much or is the university simply frugal? (N.B. the double standard because I certainly killed too many brain cells in college).

Universities are increasingly turning to non-user friendly on-line applications. They should either invest in “College Application Programs for Dummies” or debug the programs, unless they are the first screen to weed out unworthy applicants.

In a league of its own is Washington University of St. Louis with a baker’s dozen of mailings - enough to wipe out the postal deficit. Nothing else need be said.

The process is over. Ironically he enrolled in the last place university on his original list, proving that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s a large public university of national prominence, tradition, athletic successes (He immediately purchased season football tickets – so much for academic prominence- we know what really matters), and an inspirational fight song.

But why? Maybe because the open house was all day, featuring presentations from Admissions, Housing, Student Life, walking tours of the inside of its modern engineering facilities, a dorm tour and lunch, and the gift of a trinket to the wannabes – a mousepad with the group photo of the open house attendees. Or is it because it’s 2000 miles from home, and he can stick his dad with exorbitant non-resident tuition having turned down a tuition exchange offer from an outstanding university where it never snows.

Did we say the process was over? On August 1, 2004 our neighboring Cal State jump-started the 2004/2005 mailings game by sending a wonderful letter and brochure extolling the virtues of its engineering program. Early for this year, but a year late.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Massachusetts has a Math Problem with the Sales Tax

Navjeet Bal, Massachusetts Revenue Commissioner, touted the recent increase in the state sales tax for raising sales tax revenues 9.2% above last year’s to $1.8 billion for the first five months of the fiscal year. She estimates sales tax revenues will exceed last year’s by $689 million.

An almost $700 million increase in sales tax receipts in an otherwise depressed economy seemingly indicates a vibrant economy.

The truth is unsettling for the 9.2% increase in revenues came from a 25% increase in the sales tax rate to 6.25% as well as extending the tax to previously non-taxable products, such as beer, wine, and alcohol.

Navjeet said that without the tax increase, sales tax revenues would have fallen by 7.5%. The numbers don’t add up. A 9.2% increase, coupled with a saved 7.5% drop in revenues, do not add up to 9.2%, and certainly don’t equal the 25% tax increase.

In other words, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is squeezing more revenue out of sharply declining retail sales, a shrinking retail base.

Can anyone say New Hampshire?

Even in his wildest tax raising sprees, Governor Michael Dukakis did not raise the sales tax – almost every other conceivable tax, but not the sales tax. He knew that New Hampshire with no sales tax adjoins Massachusetts, and lies within a short driving distance of most Massachusetts residents.

He realized that a sales tax increase would drive business to New Hampshire, especially with large ticket items.

The booze business was already a large money maker for New Hampshire. The state’s low priced liquor stores lie astride the interstate highways leading into the state. Low priced, and no sales tax, are a seductive lure for Massachusetts, Maine, and even Connecticut residents.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Harvard grad to figure that one out – just an ounce of common sense.

Governor Duvall Patrick lacks even that understanding. He’s a Harvard grad, but probably should have consulted the economics experts at MIT.

Among the Massachusetts residents now frequenting the New Hampshire State Liquor Store is Representative Michael Rodrigues of Fall River, Massachusetts, a state legislator since 1991. A Massachusetts resident caught the Representative’s car parked in front of the New Hampshire State Liquor Store. His car even had Massachusetts legislative plates on it.

The internet also lacks a sales tax.

Patrick and Rodriguez both lack common sense, not to mention math skills.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Funlough Thursday Before Furlough Friday

California has enacted its third budget this fiscal year, and the deficit is now only $20 billion and rising. The year’s barely half over.

California’s state motto used to be “Eureka I found it.” Now it’s “Furloughs or layoffs.”

The Governor chose furloughs. That was easy for him since he doesn’t draw a salary, and he wasn't about to lay himself off.

So starting last February the state employees started taking one “voluntary,” unpaid Friday off – Furlough Friday. The goal was to save $1.3 billion a year. It didn’t and now we’re up to three Furlough Fridays a month.

It even spread to the University of California, resulting in professors reaping a 15% salary cut. How does UC say “Eureka, I lost it?”

Never underestimate the American Psyche to engage in gallows humor. Think of the band on the Titanic as it was sinking.

Some of our devoted public servants in Sacramento have coped with the stress of Furlough Fridays by inventing Funlough Thursdays. Beginning at noon Thursday, they email each other to plan the evening festivities which begin with happy Hour at 5 at a local watering hole. Furlough Fridays now include a half day of full pay on Thursday.

Why not?

They keep their jobs, pensions, medical plans, paid holidays (15 paid holidays and personal days), civil service protections, vacation days, overtime, and sick days.

To be young, single, living in Sacramento with disposable income!

The bars and restaurants report a surge in business on Thursdays. Someone’s prospering in this economy.

Those critical services, of which the people of California are being deprived, do not occur Thursday afternoons and all day Friday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Payday Wednesday and the LAPD

Officer Kenneth Aragon of the LAPD died early Thursday morning, December 3, 2009. The 19 year LAPD veteran, father of five, crashed his motorcycle at 2:15 A.M. He was highly intoxicated in the single vehicle accident.

The surprise is that the tragedy did not occur earlier to the LAPD. Officer Aragon was leaving a “Payday Wednesday” party, an unofficial tradition, at the Department’s Elysian Fields Training Academy campus. The campus has a bar on site. He spent hours drinking and singing karaoke at the bar before leaving at 12:30 AM.

The loss of any officer is a tragedy. The senseless killing of police officers, of which we have witnessed many this past year, is a direct attack on civilization.

Police Departments should not facilitate the death of their own. The operation of the bar on the campus was a festering time bomb.

Police officers work hard, often under great stress. Many also play hard. Some drink hard. Alcoholism can be a major problem for some officers.

Some drink and drive.

Some drink on the job.

If they are going to get drunk, let them do it off site on their own dime and own location. Every major police department has its favorite watering hole. It should not be at the Academy.

A police department that has a bar on the grounds of the police academy sends a message to the recruits: Drinking is encouraged on this force because alcohol is part of the program.

Rumors are that in the past offices and guests on Payday Wednesday had wild sex orgies in the garden of the Academy, thereby combining Baucus and satyrs on the training grounds during the time of Dragnet.

Rumors are that too many intoxicated officers failed to navigate the downhill drive from the Academy, such that a guardrail was placed on the side of the sharp curve.

Rumors are that guests at the parties received “Get out of jail” cards. If pulled over by an officer for DWI, the guest was to hand the officer a business card of a LAPD Police Captain with directions for the officer to call the captain.

Technically the bar was operated by a non-profit foundation, The Los Angeles Revolver and Athletic Club, which opened the bar for retirement parties, catering events, and Payday Wednesdays. The technicality of the independent management contract is irrelevant; the bar was in the Academy.

It’s possible that Officer Aragon stopped for a few additional drinks at another bar after leaving the Academy, but that’s also irrelevant. The drinking began at the Academy with a history of drunken officers driving off in the past.

Sooner or later an inebriated officer leaving the grounds was going to cause a fatal accident.

The off duty Officer Aragon did not die on the way home. Instead, he was driving to work at the Northeastern Division of the LAPD. Had he made it, he would have reported drunk to work. Instead, he was dead drunk.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Senator Max Baucus; Where's the Outrage?

Senator Max Baucus of Montana is getting a free pass from the mainstream media over his recent indiscretions, proving once again that a double standard exists in covering peccadillos in office.

Senator David Vitter’s phone number showed up in the blackbook of the D.C. madam. That made headlines.

Senator John Ensign of Nevada was sleeping with a staffer and may have been involved in a financial payoff to cover it up.

Both are conservative, family values Republicans, so the hypocrisy is great.

Governor Mark Sanford, a rising star in the GOP, can blame his problems on Rio, or if you would the Argentine Firecracker who has become his “soul mate.” He’s toast and may not last out his term in office.

Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York, a liberal Democrat, was forced from office, but when you're arrested by the FBI for violation of the Mann Act, and have antagonized almost everyone on a bipartisan basis, the normal rules don't apply.

The story was released early this week that Senator Max Baucus nominated his girl friend, Melodee Hanes, to the U.S. Attorney post in Montana without disclosing his relationship to her, a clear conflict of interest and an abysmal error in judgment.
The nomination was withdrawn the day after a reporter for the Missoulian newspaper informed the Senator that the paper was planning to run the story the next day.

His girlfriend received a consolation prize. The Senator increased her salary by $14,000. She earned $126,541 for the fiscal year ending September 28, 2008. The Senator explained that the pay raise was commensurate with the staff.

She also accompanied him on a Congressional junket to Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates at a cost to taxpayers of another $14,000. Her expertise is juvenile delinquency - not foreign policy.

As the internet spotlight shines on the Senator, we learn today that she twice met with the Senator’s divorce lawyer before Senator Baucus’ wife, Wendy, even knew he was contemplating a divorce. Wendy, the Senator's wife of 25 years was the last to know.

Divorces have been granted to both couples. The Senator and Melodee are living together and she has a position with the Justice Department.

President Clinton was right in arguing it happens and is a matter between the spouses. The Senate certainly has a history of sexual escapades (Kefauver, JFK, LBJ, Packwood, Dodd.

But when public officials publicly cavort, and the media wishes to publicize it, then it becomes salacious material for public consumption.

Tiger Words carried on with his dime on his time. That’s really a personal matter between him, his wife, and his sponsors.

Senator Vitter also paid out his dime on his time. That’s between him and his wife.

Senator Ensign was mostly on his time.

But Senator Baucus has been using our dime and time to fund his lover. That is a violation of the public trust.

The Democrats are standing by their man. They need his vote and he is the powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

That’s all we need to know.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

California's Legislators are Suffering from a Pay Cut and Loss of Self-esteem

California’s legislators are in a funk. After years of gerrymandered reelections, salary increases, raising staff salaries, drinking, wenching in Sacramento, giving out legislative largess to favored groups, traveling on tax payer or industry sponsored junkets, incessant fund raising, trying to trick voters into raising taxes and extending term limits, they’ve run into unsolvable budget shortfalls, an angry electorate, mandated 18%pay cuts, and low poll ratings.

Voters currently give the California legislature a favorable rating of 13% - half that of Congress. Even Governor Schwarzenegger polls higher. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, they just can't get any respect.

And now the public servants have to take an 18% pay cut, as well as an 18% cut in living expenses and car allowances. Base pay will be slashed to $95,000 from $116,000.

Why not? Legislators cannot isolate themselves from the state’s problems.
Unemployment is over 12% in California, government workers are taking unpaid furloughs, local governments are laying off public employees, residents are fleeing the state for jobs elsewhere, and the budget shortfalls just keep coming.

The Legislature has tried for years to insulate itself from voter fury over pay increases by delegating the job to the California Citizens Compensation Commission. Thus, they never had to cast those pesky formal votes to increase their pay.

The Council last May surprised almost everyone by voting an actual decrease, a 18% decrease, rather than the pro forma raise or even a freeze. The cuts would go into effect next legislative session. Legislators were aghast.

Members of the Assembly and Senate questioned whether the Commission could do so. They claimed it could only raise salaries, and lacked authority to lower them.

They beseeched the Speaker of the House, Karen Bass, to seek an opinion form Attorney General Jerry Brown, the once and perhaps future Governor of California. Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer.

Attorney General Brown ruled that not only did the agency have the power to lower legislative salaries, but also to place them in effect immediately.

The Attorney General undoubtedly understood that he would increase his popularity with the voters by sticking it to the Legislature. He always lived frugally .He didn’t need the money, but sure could use the votes in the primary and general elections next year.

Legislators are not seeking reelection, not seeking election to the other House, or resigning to take positions elesewhere.

One Assemblyman, Mark Ridley-Thomas won a Los Angeles County Supervisor position last year. The new job pays a salary of $178,000. He has celebrated his new post by getting approval for at least $707,000 in office improvements, funded by taxpayers, when the County is undergoing a budget shortfall. That’s the type of judgment that got the Legislature in difficulty.

He also has a $1 million discretionary fund to play with.

A Republican Senator resigned from the Senate last year to become a supervisor on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, at a substantial salary increase and no term limits.

The worse may be yet to come. A referendum is circulating that will turn the Legislature into a part time legislature, similar to Texas, and cut the pay in half.

If it qualifies for the ballot, it might well pass.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Henry Ford II and Tiger Woods

Once upon a time Henry Ford II, the chair of Ford Motor Company, was in an auto accident in California. His passenger was a delightful woman, but definitely not his wife.

Ford’s famous statement to his PR agent was “don’t complain, don’t explain.”

Tiger Woods is watching his fortune dissipate as he is doing everything wrong in responding to his personal crisis.

His apology sorta explained, but clearly complained, when he admitted to transgressions and letting his family down. He didn’t stop there. Instead, he added that he was “dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means.” He appealed to “some simple, human measure of privacy.”

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of our era, but his fortune rests on endorsement deals. These have been built on a combination of athletic success and a carefully crafted, squeaky clean public image.

His success depended on the media. One who courts favorable media attention, as many celebrities do, cannot turn it off when it becomes negative, especially when one’s own personal failures cause the turn in fortune, and the public life is seen to be a lie.

Tiger made a number of mistakes in responding to the disclosures.

He needed to get ahead of events, transcend generalities, which sounded like they were written by a press agent, that he had greatly sinned, sought forgiveness of his family, and would work to regain the public’s trust in the future.

Instead, he has now assumed “the don’t explain” posture while the disclosures keep pyramiding, revealing a sordid personal life bordering on recklessness.

Henry Ford was in a different position. While his name was on the company, as he sometimes explained to others such as Lee Iacocca, he did not sell his name or image. The company sold Ford automobiles and not Henry Ford II. That Henry Ford II fooled around was not going to affect the sales of Ford. Neither did cheating on a paper while a student at Yale.

Tiger Woods is selling the Tiger Woods brand, which is personal to him. That he has sullied. He is dying the death of a thousand cuts. Endorsement deals are being canceled, ads not running, and, deepest cut of all, the late night comedians, including David Letterman, are disparaging Tiger.

Up to $100 million annually in endorsement deals are as at risk as they were with Kobe Bryan and Michael Vick.

The Tiger Woods story is like all those Greek tragedies we read in high school. First the gods build you up, and then they tear you down, often coupled with hubris pride on the part of the actor. The Greek chorus is the harping tabloids.

Tiger had a run in with the National Inquirer two years ago. They received a tip, dispatched photographers, and shot pictures of Tiger getting it on in a darkened limo rumored to have been in a church parking lot.

Tiger agreed to a cover story in Mens Fitness, owned by the Inquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., rather than have the Inquirer print the limo photos and story.

That is where the hubris comes in. Tiger had fair warning that the media, especially the tabloids, was on to him, but apparently did not change his behavior. He was tempting fate with arrogance.

Americans are a forgiving people. Second acts are common. We understand sexual peccadilloes happen (Bill Clinton. People, even famous and powerful people, can act stupidly on occasion. We are not saints.

However, arrogance, stupidity, and adultery combined are asking too much for Americans to accept and forgive without acts of penitence, contrition, and sincerity.

Presidential candidate Gary Hart denied the rumors of adultery, and in the Sunday New York Times Magazine dared the media to investigate him, and that If they did, they would be bored. They surveilled Hart, and Donna Rice and the Monkey Business yacht became as famous as Monica Lewinsky. Hart’s political career ended.

Tiger Woods has lost control, at least for now, of his near future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day; December 7, 2009, Global Climate Day

The Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, sinking 8 battleships and crippling the United States Pacific Fleet.

Fortunately, the three fleet carriers, Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga, were at sea. The Japanese captured the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, and Indonesia in six months.

And yet, the American carriers turned back a Japanese invasion fleet headed for New Guinea at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, and then crippled the Japanese Navy at Midway in June. The tide in the Pacific had inexorably turned in six months as the Arsenal of Democracy rose to defeat the Axis.

December 7, 1941 was an attack on the military might of America and the will of the American people. America rose to the challenge.

December 7, 2009 is the day two major developments unfolded in the global war against global climate change. First, the Copenhagen Conference convened with 110 countries meeting purportedly to fight global warming.

Second, and not just coincidental, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of the American people. The EPA will now proceed to rule making.

Copenhagen is not about the science of global warming, the questionable science of global warming. The recent email disclosures from East Anglia are irrelevant.

Copenhagen is politics – not science. It is an attack on the wealth of the West, especially the United States. It is a direct attack upon America’s highly successful capitalistic economy. America has created tens of millions of jobs in recent decades, even considering the current economic crisis, while Europe has stagnated.

Pearl Harbor was a direct attack on America’s military.

Copenhagen is a direct attack on America’s economy.

The poorer nations want a buyout of $10 billion to go along. The unelected bureaucrats of Europe are salivating at controlling the economic systems of Europe and America through a new international regime that will cripple the Western countries, as well as America’s military might. Without a strong economy, America will no more be able to sustain its military than most of the NATO countries.

Carbon caps, cap and trade, emissions restrictions will severely cripple western economies. Of course, as with Rio and Kyoto, anything less than meaningful participation by China and India will be an expansive exercise is nothingness.

President Roosevelt met the Japanese attack with his Day of Infamy speech, one of the greatest in American history. He steeled the will of the American people. German Americans, Italian Americans, and Japanese Americans fought for an American victory.

President Obama, and many of his allies in Congress, will not resist Copenhagen, for they support its goals. President Obama will be supported by an alliance of the mainstream media, academicians, and statists.

The former community organizer is economically illiterate as shown by the recent White House Jobs Summit. He invited academicians, labor, reporters, campaign supporters, and government types to the summit, but not those who actually create jobs, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and small business.

Congress, especially the Democrats in the coal states, will probably not accede to the cap and trade bills, carbon taxes, or other bills pending in Congress.

Congress is irrelevant unless it makes itself relevant.

Congress’ assent is unnecessary because of the 5:4 decision two years ago by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA. The Court held that the EPA has the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate automotive emissions as greenhouse gasses endangering the American people.

The Obama Administration is prepared to proceed through the regulatory powers of the EPA to impose carbon restrictions on America.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The PC Industry and Planned Obsolescense

Planned obsolescence is a wonderful marketing construct for manufacturers. They design products to fail over time rather than last. They can even program in the expected life span of the product.

Planned obsolescence propelled Detroit’s wealth into the 1970’s, long past the time most Americans owned a functioning automobile.

Obsolescence can be promoted by style and image changes. For example, the Ford Falcon was a perfectly excellent, but staid, compact car. Lee Iacocca invested $90 million in style changes, and rebadged the bland Falcon into a sporty Mustang. The only initial change in the vehicle was the external sheet metal. An entire new market was created for “Pony cars.” Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, Firebirds, Barracudas, Javelins raced out of Detroit. Jazz up a full size car, and you have a GTO, 442, 409, Chargers, and Road Runners.

Detroit hyped the annual model change when prices were low, and then followed with the three year model cycle, eventually stretching to 5-6-7 years.

If style changes didn’t sell cars, then planned quality deterioration could. Thus, Detroit vehicles would have trouble lasting 70,000-80,000 miles without expensive breakdowns and repairs. Those “old”cars could nickel and dime you into economic poverty.

Several critical parts, such as brakes, pads, calipers, and clutches, cannot last because of the forces of friction. Even transmissions, even the fabled Slant 6, wore out. Tires, batteries, wipers, lights, carburetors, and mufflers similarly have limited lives.

Tradeoffs are necessary in the design process. For example, if a patient needing a hip transplant has a 3 year life expectancy, and if the choice is a hip transplant with a 5 year life, or a more expensive one with a 10 year life, then the medical profession will probably implant the 5 year hip.

But that doesn’t explain why the mufflers on our Horizon and Omni would burn off very two years, just like clockwork.

That’s too short a period, just like 12,000 for brakes.

Chrysler designed the Horizon and Omni to save weight in the late 1970’s. Every ounce, or fraction thereof, was cut. Thus, these cars were designed with “feather” clutches. I burnt out three clutches in 16 years, once in a underground parking garage in New York City. Whatever I saved in gas went into the clutch.

The Frost Belt also favored Detroit. Road salt accelerates the normal oxidization process (rust) of the metal in cars.

Planned obsolescence by Detroit confronted the well built German and Japanese cars. The Japanese, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, built economical cars that lasted.

What a revolutionary concept!

Detroit’s fate was sealed.

Silicon Valley has learnt from Detroit. It utilizes planned obsolescence in both hardware and software.

Our first computer was an Apple II+, extended to 64K (64K, not 6GB), purchased 27 years ago. That Apple did almost everything. The only additional program that was desirable was VisiCalc, the pioneering spread sheet.

The computer with monitor, printer, and speakers sold for $2,750.

It lasted us for ten years, but somewhere along the way Apple stopped supporting both the software and hardware. If it broke, then it was history – a true harbinger of the future.

Apple and the industry discovered the value of orphaning products.

We donated the II+ to a local elementary school, which squeezed a few more years out of it.

We purchased an IBM 486. The 486 had a limited life though because of exponential advances in technology. Intel soon marketed the Pentium chip, and the innards of the 486 could not keep up with modem speeds, software needs, etc.

The rugged HP printer outlived the PC.

Equipment, such as the 486, becomes obsolete when technology is rapidly advancing.

Memory became cheap, and Microsoft software a programming pig, but computers prices dropped sharply from the $2,750 Apple.

Recent years though have witnessed few major changes in PC’s. Apple and Microsoft may be engaged in OS battles, but 5 year old computers function perfectly fine. Business does not need to replace them on a 3 year cycle, and often doesn’t.

Microsoft depends on planned software obsolescence to sell computers, but finally failed with Vista, a true clunker. Apple is the technology pioneer.

5 year old computers serve our needs.

If they last to 5 years!

And if Apple and the PC manufacturers would support them!

Hard drives and batteries have relatively short lives.

The hard drive of our 4 year old HP desktop died last August, and our 4 ½ year old Toshiba laptop celebrated Thanksgiving by dying. Neither was worth fixing with the drop in new computer prices compared to service costs. In the old Apple, the loss of a key necessitated replacing the whole keyplate. The Toshiba would have required a new board.

Sometimes the only way to clean a computer is to wipe out the hard drive and reload the original software. Notice though how the PC manufacturers do no longer include a recovery disk in the purchase. You make your own – maybe,

We didn’t need, much less want Vista, but alas got it with the new desktop. It performs up to expectations.

We did our best to single handily keep Apple, HP, Sony, and Best Buy in business this past year – often through planned obsolescence.

Manufacturers discovered a whole new revenue stream in recent years, the extended service contract. Pay $XXX for 2-3-4 years of protection, for years in which the product should reasonable have expected to not break down. Make sure to carefully read the fine print and deductibles.

Extended service plans, right up there with planned obsolescence.