Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boycott Arizona; There Shall Be No Arizona

Boycott Arizona: There Shall be no Arizona

Boycott Arizona; there is no Arizona

San Francisco is mounting a boycott of Arizona over the new immigration bill. The effort is led by Mayor Gavin Newson, who is seeking the Hispanic vote in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor. Los Angeles Supervisor Janice Hahn is also supporting a boycott of Arizona. She too is seeking the Hispanic vote in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor.

Let us ignore that San Francisco, as a sanctuary city, refused to turn over its illegal criminal immigrants to the INS for deportation, but instead deported its underaged, illegal immigrant, criminal minors to San Bernardino, California without informing San Bernardino officials.

Also on board is New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who is running against the ethically challenged incumbent Congressman Charles Rangel.

Let’s ignore the politics though, and just look at the dynamics.

The call has already gone out to boycott Arizona Tea. Unfortunately, the Arizona Tea was begot in the Arizona County of Kings (aka Brooklyn), New York, and is currently from Nassau County, New York out on the Island. The London Bridge on Lake Havasu won't get you to Long Island. Of course, a lot of New Yorkers have moved to Arizona, so we can boycott the Tea.

While we’re at it, we should also boycott Arizona Jeans, a private label sold by J.C. Penney.

No more rafting down the Colorado River. Now we can ride the rapids of the mighty Los Angeles River.

While we’re at it, let’s send the Colorado River water back to Arizona; that’ll really show them.

Forget the Rails on the Rim; ride instead Angels Flight.

Children and grandchildren now have an excuse not to visit their parents and grandparents in Sun City, Arizona.

Hands off the Pontiac Phoenix, Kia Sedona, and Hyundai Tucson.

Mexico would like to boycott Arizona, but then where could they export their poor?

Let us boycott, or dematriculate at the University of Phoenix.

Boycott major league baseball games when the Arizona Diamondbacks are the visiting team. So what if the visitors receive little revenue, you've made the point. In some major league stadiums, the attendance drop will be imperceptible.

But let's boycott the Dodger-Diamondback games, actually all Dodger games, at Chavez Ravine, and also atone for the displacement of the Hispanic residents who were displaced to make room for the New Yorkers by way of Brooklyn. That will put a major crimp in the cash flow of the cash strapped Dodgers, but more significantly in the highly public, entertaining and messy debacle of a divorce between the owner(s) McCourts, by way of Boston.

Cancel your subscription to Arizona Highways.

No more taking it easy in Winslow, Arizona with the Eagles.

Since anything with the name Arizona in it today is clearly unAmerican and unpatriotic, do not visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

You may visit Hoover Dam, but only if you stay on the Nevada side. Remember though that President Hoover is a graduate of Stanford.

No more Grand Canyon and its pristine skies. Luxuriate in the smoggy cement canyons of downtown Los Angeles instead.

Ignore George Strait’s “Ocean front property in Arizona” and settle for the real beaches of Malibu, if you can access them.

And I will personally boycott USA Airways; we've always had bad karma.

But think of the biggest sacrifice of all. No more sex at Four Corners. Three Corners sex just doesn’t cut it.

There is no Arizona.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The California Non-fire Fire sale

California’s political leadership, Democratic and Republican, executive and legislative, have shown great ingenuity in papering over deficits, creative accounting, and excessive optimism such that the state now faces a structural deficit of $20 billion. It’s truly been bi-partisan as the Democrats always seem to gain just enough Republican votes to pass a budget.

Good times, bad times, the deficit keeps rising.

But now our Governor and legislature have reached a new low.

Every once in awhile a seemingly good idea pops to the surface, but on closer look will only worsen the situation.

The new word is “privatization.” Let’s sell off surplus state lands and convert them to productive use. Sounds good; I’m in favor of it.

But that’s not what’s happening.

The idea was proposed a few years back to close San Quentin, and sell the tract fronting the Bay in Marin County. The developmental potential of these 432 acres during the real estate peak would have been among the highest in the country.

Unfortunately, of course, we need the prison capacity, unless the federal judges, and a compliant legislature, release more prisoners from our prisons.

Back to reality, California style!

The state has identified 24 office buildings and facilities that could fetch an estimated $1.760 billion in cash for the cash starved state. It wouldn’t solve the state’s problem, but it might buy time for the state to get its fiscal house in order.

Dream on!

These are not surplus properties, but many of the state government’s prime office buildings, such as the Ronald Reagan Office Building in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Civic Center, housing the California Supreme Court, and several office buildings in Oakland, Sacramento, and Santa Rosa.

Now comes the rub.

First, these buildings have about $1.1 billion in bonds and debts outstanding on them. Paying off these debts will result in a net of only about $660 million, a far cry from $1.76 billion.

Hold on for a moment; it gets even better.

Second, while many of these buildings might be well suited for an inefficient public bureaucracy, they’re not well suited for private enterprise.

Therefore, the state will enter into a 20 year leaseback on the buildings, with total rentals of about $5.2 billion.

Yes, the state will receive $660 million upfront and pay out $5.2 billion for the pleasure. Anyone with a scintilla of business sense will recognize the utter folly in such a deal, but since our legislative leaders are community organizers, labor organizers, and representatives of public employee unions, they might well proceed anyway.

Our Governor and the legislature are acting like junkies addicted to a quick fix of cash, not thinking about tomorrow when they will need an even greater fix.

The state is currently paying about 4% interest on the bonds, but the new landlords will want at least a 7% return on their investment. A couple of examples will show the absurdity of the proposed deals.

First, if the state keeps the buildings, it will pay out an estimated $192 million next year in bond payments, maintenance, and repairs. If the state sells the buildings, then the estimated rental and utility costs alone next year will be $238 million.

Second, the buildings currently have about 3500 parking spaces, a valuable asset in congested downtowns. Under the proposed leases, the state will have to pay monthly fees for these spaces, about $138 million over the two decades.

Third, the Franchise Tax Building in Sacramento has an estimated value of $396.7 million, but the estimated rent payments over 20 years would be $1.2 billion.

Governor Schwarzenegger last week said there would be no fire sale of state office buildings. He also fired many members of the oversight boards in Los Angeles and San Francisco because they questioned these sales.

If these are not fire sales, then perhaps another stench is in the air.

So, my question about our current leadership in Sacramento is:

Are they:

A) That desperate;

B) That stupid;

C) That economically illiterate; or

D) Is this why California is in just dire straits?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tarp the Volcano

Let’s Tarp the Volcano

Why not? Let’s Tarp the volcano, and shove stimulus funds down its mouth. Tarp and cover; Cover and Tarp.

Only $388 billion of the $700 billion TARP bill has been allocated. That’s a good cushion. And then we have unspent stimulus funds. The American Way is to throw money at problems. We have the money to Tarp the volcano. Throw it on.

No tiny Icelandic volcano should ever be allowed to shut down international air travel. The boldness of the volcano with an unpronounceable name is an affront to humanity, science, and global warming.

Starting with Plymouth Rock, Americans have let no rock, not even the Rockies, stand in the way of Manifest Destiny.

Our global economy must be resilient enough to withstand any volcano. Organized labor can’t stop global trade. The WTO protestors couldn’t still the global economy. Neither can protectionists. Therefore, no rock can stand in the way.

We are either stronger than earth, wind, fire, and ice, or Thales was right and millennia of metaphysics false.

We’ve grown since the ancient Greeks, but you’re still but a rock.

Not one week! Not one day! Not one hour! Not one minute! No mas! Never again!

We shall bio-engineer and channel the raw forces of nature. Man shall master nature, the volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, cyclones, earthquakes, and floods.

Iceland is the opportunity to begin: Small country; few people. No NEPA.

Man must surmount nature. Be not afraid.

Who are we to let a 4.54 billion year old third rock from the sun beat us? It’s a dumb rock. We are smart.

We have soul. We have immutable rules of science and physics.

We have the Army Corps of Engineers, which can dam anything that flows.

We can Google anything. No rock can match Silicon Valley.

We can vulcanize and synthesize rubber, macadamize roads, pulverize coal, smash atoms, crack the DNA curve, and turn silica into glass (almost alchemy). The volcano is but a hot rock.

We can sheetrock, and drywall, and rock wool.

We can even rock.

But a rock is but a rock.

The volcano shall not be allowed to defy gravity. Nature cannot usurp Sir Isaac Newton. Man has the genius to transcend gravity. Man must rule. Not nature.

Primeval, primordial, raw, untamed forces, wild nature may have frightened the Neanderthal, but we are Homo sapiens, the wise man.

PAVE THE CRATER! Tarp the Volcano! Vent the heat!

Convert the volcano into geothermal energy.

Stimulate the economy!

Not enough “shovel ready” plans were available upon enactment of the Stimulus Bill.

No problem. Shovels are too small for this project. It’s time to once again think big.

No shovels necessary. Just load the planes and then open the D.B. Cooper rear doors on the 727’s. Let it pour out the back.

We turn rocks into monuments and parks, but they’re just rocks.

A rock can be a landmark, because it doesn’t move; it doesn’t even rock.

Rocks include Big Rock, the Blarney Stone, Castle Rock, Devil’s Rock, Eagle Rock, Falling Rocks, Little Rock, the Painted Rock, Rock Springs, Rocky Point, Tiny Peebles, Turtle Rock, and The Rock, but they’re just rocks.

Georgia O’Keefe could paint rocks, but she made flowers sexy. A rock is but a rock.

A pile of rocks is but a rock pile.

Simon and Garfunkel sang “I am a rock; I am an island,” but that was symbolic. The Rock of Chickamauga was a general.

A Colorado Rocky Mountain High needs human intervention.

The volcano is but a rock.

If the volcano is in fact shrinking, then now is the perfect time. The risk is small, but the learning opportunity is great. Learn on the small, and apply to the large. Sometimes, to quote the once and perhaps future Governor Brown, “less is more.” Place Vulcan’s forge and anvil on the Tarped dome.

Reassert man’s primacy.

No Old Testament Act of God shall be allowed to defy modern Acts of Man.

A rock is but a rock.

Some people we know have the IQ of a rock.

Many boxers are named Rocky (Marciano, Balboa), but I’m not sure that’s a compliment. A wrestler was the Rock, but he wasn’t.

A moon rock is but a rock.

The learning curve is critical because this volcano apparently has a sleeping cousin, which may be awakening.

The Stimulus Bill has a Buy American clause. Perfect. We use Boeing jets, American aircrews, USA asphalt and concrete in a non-stop shuttle to the volcano and back. All the Way With USA. We’ll bail out the New York City asphalt plant and bring back full employment to JFK.

We will restore our economy overnight, and some might even spill over into the Maritime Provinces of Canada, part of our Good Neighbor Policy.

If we are going to burn up the funds anyway, then why not on a volcano’s magma?

Yes, we can!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is President Obama a Dilettante in Foreign Policy, or is He Just a Hopelessly Naive Peachnik, or is He a hopeless Progressive?

Is President Obama a Dilettante in Foreign Policy, or is He Just a Hopelessly Naïve Peacknik, or is He a Hopeless Progressive?

Why do we ask these questions?

Is it because the front page of the Sunday New York Times today had a lead article in which Secretary of Defense Bob Gates says the Obama Administration lacks an effective long range policy for dealing with Iran’s progress towards going nuclear?

The Administration denies it, of course.

Is it because Iran is now within 5 years of having a ballistic missile that can strike the United States, and perhaps only one year from the Bomb?

Is it because last September President Obama’s response to the Iranian nuclear threat was to summarily abandon the anti-ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, the defenses designed to protect Europe and the world against Iran?

Actually, the Obama Administration does a plan for Iran. It’s to keep Israel from doing anything. That too is scary.

Is it because the President admits sanctions won’t work, so he works to impose sanctions.

Does anyone study history, especially the disarmament talks of the 1920’s and 1930’s? Coming out of World War I, the “War to End All Wars”, the major powers held talks to limit Germany and downsize navies, and all that.

The result was, of course, that America was unprepared for World War II while Germany and Japan built up the strongest armies and air fleets in the world at that time, and Japan had also built a great navy.

Only the two oceans bought America time to recover, rearm, and harness the Arsenal of Democracy. That margin of error does not exist with thermonuclear warheads on missiles, or even with suitcase bombs.

But the President calls an international conference on non-proliferation (another idealistic carryover from the Carter Administration). Neither Iran nor North Korea attended, and neither Great Britain nor Israel sent their leaders. The great accomplishment of the conference was to announce the next conference will be hosted by South Korea in two years.

Is it because this President believes in words and treaties, the good will of the international community, rather than actual deeds?

And what has Iran been doing in the meantime?

Accelerating development of the Bomb and offensive missiles, and supplying Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Oh, Happy Days and Here Again, if you’re a mullah.

Today we are dealing with mullahs and other true believers who believe that Allah is waiting for them in heaven with 72 virgins and salvation for them, their families, and all true believers, who thereby cannot die. If they can incinerate millions of infidels on the road to heaven, then all the better.

The Jihadists value life by how many infidels they can kill while losing their own life. Their loving family members may just be pawns in the battle.

If Iran acquires the bomb, then Ahmadinejad will bring us one large step closer to Armageddon.

Is it because he announced a new policy that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against any country that has signed and is abiding by the Nuclear-Non Proliferation Treaty even if they attack the United States with nuclear or biological weapons?

The Cold War and mutually assured destruction, the MAD Doctrine, worked because the Communists may have been atheists, but they did not want to accelerate their journey with their families to the non-existent afterlife.

Is it because of his arrogant dismissal of Governor Palin when she criticized the new treaty with Russia by stating "I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues."

And what was the President's background again?

Is it because the Administration had no plans in fact for responding to captured terrorists, such as the underwear bomber, even though they said they did?

Is it because a year ago Secretary of State Clinton said the Administration does not use the phrase “War on Terror.” Later we find out that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano referred to these issues as “human caused errors.” Can they really be considering Secretary Napolitano for the Supreme Court?

Is it because the word “terror” is the word not spoken by this Administration? Not even after Nidal Malik’s Fort Hood killings. Not even after the Christmas day underwear bomber. Not domestic terrorism, not international terrorism. Not fanatic Muslim terrorism. Not Jihadist terror.

Is it therefore because the ”War on Terror” has become nonspeak in this Administration?

Is it because the President alternates between apologizing for America and bowing to foreign leaders?

Bows, apologies, and the shrinkage of America.

He has bowed to the Emperor Akihito of Japan, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao of China, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Each bow is a diminution of America’s stature in the world.

He’s apologized to over half the world’s population over the past year, but never once said “I’m proud to be an American.” Each apology is a diminution of America’s stature in the world.

Deep down, he’s a community organizer, a demagogue.

Deep down, President Obama is of the international left, the left that believes American hegemony is the root of international evil.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Will Iceland Chill Global Warming?

Iceland is bankrupt; its currency is ice cold, and creditors frozen and stiffed.

The glaciers may be melting, or at least incinerating.

And yet the small island may cool the world.

How ironic.

A volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, has erupted under the glaciers, sending plumes of ash, silica, gasses, magna, and smoke into the sky, blowing over Ireland and England, and closing almost all major international airport hubs in Western Europe.

The amazing thing about nature is that we cannot control volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, sand storms, wind storms, and perhaps not even floods and wildfires, but they can control us, and the climate.

Beautiful sunsets can be spectacular. What causes sunsets? Air pollution or volcanic eruptions – in other words, pollution.

A few years ago a meteorologist, or was it a volcanologist, said the quickest way to cool the planet would be for 4 or 5 volcano eruptions the equivalent of Krakatoa to gird the planet.

It’s possible. Volcanic eruptions can add to global warming by spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

They can also lead to global cooling by spewing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

And we have no control either way. Humanity with all its science is but a spectator to these awesome forces of nature.

Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815. 1816 was known as the year without a summer. Pinatubo erupted on Luzon in 1991, destroying the famous Clark Air Force Base and cooling global temperatures by 1/2°C. The Pilipino volcano was 10 times greater than our Mt. St. Helens three decades ago.

The winter of 1783-4 was about 4.8° below the 225 year average. The cooling is believed to have been caused by the eruption of the Laki Volcano in Iceland.

The volcanic gasses and particles can reflect the sun back into space and serve as a blanket over the globe. Hence, global cooling.

Turn down the thermostat too much and we have an ice age. We don’t want that. The reappearance of glaciers in New England and the Great Plains is a scary thought. If a land bridge were once again connect Siberia to Alaska, then Tina Fey/Governor Palin"s claim to be able to see Russia from her house might be validated.

Just as we are apparently experiencing a number of large earthquakes these days, volcanic activity is also fairly strong. Several sites along the Pacific Ring of Fire have been blowing, including 4 on the Kamchatka Peninsula, underwater Mayon in the Philippines, Redoubt in Alaska, and Kilauea on the Big Island for decades, not to neglect several other volcanic disturbances around the planet.

Is it possible that a combination of these active volcanoes, as well as others that may erupt in the near future, will bring us to the Big Chill? Yes, but who knows
what the odds are? These variables certainly have played a major role in the planets climate history.

No reason exists to think the scenario will change in the future, or that man can control it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Cold Dead Hand of Beria Strikes Poland Again

The tragic Polish plane crash near Smolensk, Russia last Saturday echoes one of Beria’s great crimes – the liquidation of the Polish elite early in World War II.

Stalin needed Lavrentry Beria, and Beria mirrored Stalin. He was Stalin’s butcher for almost 15 years. Stalin ran through a number of secret police chiefs before Beria rose to the top. His predecessors, Yagoda and Yerzov, were executed.

Stalin did not initiate the secret police or terror. The Cheka and terror began under Lenin. Both Trotsky and Stalin were ardent believers and practitioners of terror during the Russian Civil War.

But Stalin carried it to extremes, being exceeded only by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge decades later in Cambodia.

Stalin may have been paranoid, but paranoia served a purpose to him. The dead do not pose a threat. Hence the purges, show trials, and coerced confessions. The dead may not pose a threat, but their sons and daughters might. Hence the family members and often friends, acquaintances, associates, and colleagues also had to be liquidated.

Bullets were a cheap way of buying peace.

Out of the milieu of the purges and Stalin’s kleptocrats arose Beria, the smartest and cunningest of all. Beria was simply the best. He could drink with the best. All were wastrels, fawning sycophants, and butchers (Khrushchev for example was the butcher of the Ukraine), but Beria outshone them all.

He got the job done.

Threats were to be eliminated. Perceived threats were to be eliminated. Potential perceived threats were to be similarly eliminated, both internally and externally.

Beria endeared himself to Stalin by arranging the assassination of Trotsky at his villa in Mexico on August 20, 1940. He marshaled the Soviet industrial effort during the war, moving the factories 1,000 miles to the east to escape the invading German armies. He delivered the secrets of the Bomb to Stalin.

And that brings us to the Katyn Forest and the tragedy of Poland.

History tells us that Poland’s Tragedy is that it is stuck between Germany and Russia, and only infrequently rose to military preeminence.

Germany and Russia entered into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact on August 24, 1939. A secret codicil to the Pact divided Poland between Germany and Russia.

The Nazis invaded Poland from the west on September 1, 1939, formally triggering World War II. Stalin invaded Poland from the east on September 17, 1939. Poland was doomed.

Stalin’s position in invading foreign lands was to minimize any risk. Deportations and executions were the norm. Beria took credit for deporting 1,500,000 people during the war.

Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania were conquered with the populations being deported and the leaders executed. The Soviets deported the Chechens to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944, with ¼ to ½ of the Chechens dying. The Chechens were rehabilitated in 1956 and allowed to return to their North Caucasus homeland in 1957. We know how well that is working out today.

Poland, poor Poland, was not spared the Beria treatment. About 8,000 Polish military officers, ranging from generals and admirals to non-coms, were seized by the Russians. An additional 14,000 Poles, the political leadership, the intelligentsia, the professors, police officers, doctors, lawyers, priests, public servants, and others were also held by the Russians.

An order was signed by all members of the Politburo on March 5, 1940 directing the execution of the prisoners. (Stalin liked to have the Politburo members sign many of these orders because then their hands were also dirty and they became willing complicitors).

The executions began on April 4, 1940 and extended for 28 nights. Only a few of the 22,000 survived the massacres. The killings occurred in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk and in some prisons.

Another 320,000 Poles were deported to the Soviet Union.

The Germans discovered the Katyn Massacre in 1943 and widely publicized the atrocities.

The Soviets denied all, but the truth could not be suppressed. Finally, under Glasnost Premier Gorbachev allowed the truth to out.

Russia has recently been making amends for the Katyn massacre. It’s not always easy for a country to confront the horrors of its past. For example, Germany had to confront the Holocaust, but Japan still has difficulty dealing with the Rape of Nanking or the Korean comfort girls.

The current Russian leadership is to be commended for attempting rapprochement with Poland over Katyn. The Russians can no more undo Katyn than the Germans the Holocaust (Auschwitz and many of the other concentration camps were also in Poland), but they can learn from the past and move forward.

And hence the double tragedy of Katyn. The President of Poland, his wife, the entire military leadership, political leaders and the political opposition, Solidarity veterans, intellectuals, artists, were on the plane to Smolensk to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Katyn Massacre with the Russians.

Dead, all dead, and apparently the Russians are not at fault this time.

The cold dead hand of Beria, or at least his ashes, induced human error on the part of the pilots or others on the Russian built plane.

A true tragedy.

And what happened to Beria?

Stalin died on March 5, 1953, perhaps of a cerebral hemorrhage, the official cause of death, or perhaps, depending on whose memories or memoirs, of poisoning by Beria. Either way the death was initially convenient to Beria and others of the inner circle because Stalin was preparing a new round of terror and purges. Many of them knew they were to be among the victims.

Beria’s fortunes did not last. He was arrested on June 26, and executed on December 22. His body was cremated, so no shrine could ever be built of him. His family was exiled, but survived. His end marked the end of the terror for Stalin’s successors stopped killing their defeated rivals, and instead pensioned them off.

Loving history, I read a fascinating book 35 years ago, Commissar by Thaddeus Wittlin (Macmillan Company 1972), a biography of Beria based on what was then known and rumored about him, including that he was a pedophile of young girls).

Last year I read an even more fascinating book, based on archival records and memoirs, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Alfred A. Knopf 2003), which completes the picture

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pied Piper of the Americus

A plague of despair, the malaise of the Carter, descended upon the land of Americus.

Who wilt rid us of the Bushies?

There arose around the land of Americus a cry to rid the land of the Bushies, a cry of despair, a hope for renewal.

And from the great, wind blown plains of the Illini camest a Pied Piper known as the Obama with his magical TOTUS and glorious chords.

False Pipers had shown themselves in the past, The Al of Gore and the Dukakis and Kerry of Mass, and the Rowdy Roddy Piper.

The Obama is the true piper for he hath proveth himselfe by besting the august Lady Hillary of York, the Edwards of Lust, and the Palin of McCain.

This is the true Piper, the worldly Pied Piper, the Pied Piper of Obama.

And then the promises
The promise to be the agent of change, change to believe in
The promise to give everyone jobs
The promises to rid the land of pesky middle class taxes and to taxe only thy riche
The promise to purge the land of the Bushies
The promise to restore faith at the Bank of the Wall and the Broadway
The promise of reconciliation
The promise to be post-racial
The promise to getmo out of the GITMO
The promise of health care for all
The promise that children need not grow up until they reach 27
The promise to please and appease, to embrace our enemies and smite our allies
The promise to unite the people
The promise to cap and trade
The promise of card check and net neutrality, of which the people knew little, but the tune was exalting

And amnesty for all those who could not prove they were of the Americus.

And he shall be the fairest of all pipers, to take from the takers and giveth to the givees, and they shall be nonest the wisest.

And he shall askest nought, and tellest less.

And he shall hear the voices of the multitudes, the underepresented, the underclass, the downtrodden, the weak, the minority for he is of them.

He will be post-partisan, post-racial, and post traumatic stress syndrome, but he durst not post the GPA, SAT or LSAT. He is not of the blood, but he is of the affirmative.

Yes, he shall free the people. Follow, and he shall set thee free.

The promises, verily, but the music, oh the music. The soaring rhetoric, the inspirational psalms, the beauty of the phrases. It was truly the Obama, not TOTUS, who moved the people. A gift, a true gift, the true voice of the New Millennium – the Americus Idol.

And the people rejoiced.

And he purged the land of the Bushies, but saved a Gate.

And he freed the Gitmos, or so he thought.

And he nationalized the student loans.

And he brought reconciliation.

And what a siren tune the Piper played.

He served a sweet wine with elixir of euphoria.

He appealed to the Americus of all hues and shades. From the churches, the bells rang and the choirs cried out "Yes he can. Yes we can" and “Hallelujahs.”

A rainbow of green and red LED the way.

He sold the Senators a seductive siren song of Stimulus.

And he bestowed The Barons of the House with hosannas, honors, pork and forgiveness of their sins, the sins of the Mollohan and the Rangel, and the Golden Caucus to Joe of Hartford, but not Joe the Plumber?

And the lords of the manor were willing for they were the children of the 60’s between exiles. They knew they must not fail for theirs is not the voice or will of the people, but of the exiles with their day in the sun, blinded by a tenuous majority.

Oh how he played the lords with his chords.

And he forgavest the taxes of his most loyal vassals. Lord Geithner was charged with the fisc and the IRS for he understoodest not the turbotax, and could forgive the 276,300 Americus workers and retirees who are in arrears on $3,042,000 for their 2008 taxes.

And he cashiered the cashiers of the banks

And the high Hoyer hosted the Holy Grail of Health Reform

He, The Piper said to follow him along the little green road, the true path, to the jobs. He marked it with little acorns. Pebbles, pithals, pixels, tea bags and a Brown stone had no effect on the music of the spheres.

No more of the right or the left, for he, and only he, would show the true way.

He could beseech and besmirch, but the kaleidoscope of the rainbow was blinding.

The path wove true through the reeds of Reid, the mirth of Murtha, the lands of Landrieu, the Baucus Bog, the Dodd Debacle, Kent's Land Bank, Pelosi's spells, and viagra of pedophiles.

Naysayers were drowned out by the magical chords. El Rushbo, the Hannity sans Coombs, the Morris and the Rove, and the Marks all experienced the Cassandra. The media of the masses could only hear the Piper. To the rest were the sounds of silence.

They said we know all so little of this Piper. We know but nought of his years at Oxy and Columbia, and some darest question even if he is of Americus, but rather of the tribe of Amerikenyan.

The Bart of Stupak followed the true path, came to the cliffs, looked down into the abyss, and tried to abort. Alas, it was too late for he had drunkest the Koolest-Aide.

And he SEIU’d the naysayers in St. Louie.

He dispatched his major domo, the Rahm of Emanuel, to smite in the locker room the apostate Master Massa of the Tickles. Oh what a sight!

And the Bayh took a bye, but voted in the aye.

And the children, the trusting children under 27. There are no jobs at the end of the little green road, much less a Bryan’s Cross of Gold - just children burdened with trillions of debt on their backs as the cliffs await

The warnings were there; the Reverends Wright and Pfleger, and the domestic terrorists Ayres and Dohrn. The Piper’s fair wife, the Michelle of Robinson, had stated “For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is making a comeback.”

But the Clinton and the Huckabee are from Hope.

The Karl of Marx once proclaimed that religion “is the opium of the masses” and the Piper himself at a foggy Frisco rally dropped his mask for just a second: “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

He knew though; he would led them the right way; he knew the way, and he would transform Americus.

He would transform the people from those of the Reagan to those of the Obama. He has seen the future, and it is but of the past. He would transform the Americus into the Rumsfeldian Europe of olde, the statist Europe. All this he knew, and they did follow the music.

The Pied Piper of Americus is a transformative Piper; he carest not about the fate of his liege for he will show the true path to those of the Americus. A new Americus, transformed before our very eyes.

Verily, veritas, for he is the one true way, yes he can and did, that is the truth

And he has united the people for he hast led the Democrats over the cliffs. That too is the truth.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The First Three Shoes of Health Care Reform Have Fallen

Shortly after Congress enacted the Health Care Reform Act, Caterpillar announced a $100 million tax charge (write-off) for 40,000 retirees receiving drug benefits, unleashing a flood of similar charges to the chagrin of Congress and the White House.

The two telecommunications giants, AT&T and Verizon chimed in with charges of $1 billion and $970 million respectively, followed by Deere & Co ($150 million), Boeing ($150 million), Lockheed ($96 million), 3M ($85-90 million), Ingersoll-Rand ($41 million), AK Steel $31 million), Xcel Energy ($17 million), Valero Energy ($15-20million), and Goodrich ($10 million).

The bill eliminates a subsidy for employers providing drug benefits to retirees.

Let’s examine the details of these developments. About 1,400 employers currently cover the drug benefits of about 6.3 million retirees, often pursuant to labor agreements.

President Bush’s Medicare Part D Program was enacted in 2003. Many employers considered eliminating their drug plans and moving the retirees to Medicare, which was a less generous plan than their existing benefits packages.

President Bush and Congress, a bi-partisan Congress, agreed to encourage employers to continue these plans by providing a subsidy, actually a double subsidy. First, the government would cover 28% of these drug benefits, which are more generous than Medicare’s. Second, the employer could exclude the 28% from income, in reality simply creating a wash with a subsidy.

The double subsidy comes in the form of the employer then being allowed to deduct the full 28%, up to $1330 per retiree, from taxes as an expense. In other words, after already broken even through the government subsidy, an employer now deducts the subsidy, certainly creating one of the most unusual tax subsidies provided by Congress.

While unusual, the belief of the Bush Administration and Congress was that he subsidies were less costly to the government than having the retirees dumped directly into Medicare.

As subsidies go, this one is petty cash compared to the new, large subsidies in the Bill.

So why eliminate it? To some, the idea of a double subsidy is hard to justify.

The real reason though was the need of the Democrats to doctor the books to make the new program appear self-sustaining, if not deficit neutral or favorable. Thus, they had to create 10 years of fictitious revenues to cover 6 years of underestimated expenditures. Revenues mean tax increases, large tax increases. A billion here and a billion there add up, and soon on a zero budget scale the plan is self-supporting, even if some of these taxes will not net revenue gains and the expenditures will inevitably exceed forecasts. That is the nature of the legislative beast.

The elimination is estimated to raise $4.5-5 billion in tax revenue over 10 years. Of course, it won’t as employers start eliminating these benefits, and throw the retirees into 100% government funded Medicare.

Remember President Obama’s promise: “If you like the plan you’re in now, you will get to keep it.”

These subsidies are treated as ”deferred tax assets” under current accounting principles. One of the responses to the Enron debacle is that companies must now write these assets off in the quarter the tax law change is enacted. Once the bill was signed, the companies were legally required to take these charges.

A spokesman for Caterpillar remarked: “From our point of view, a tax increase like this cannot come at a worse time.’ Note that many of these companies are among the last of our great industrial giants

Major lessons from this shoe:

No future Congress is bound by promises and programs of an earlier Congress. What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away.

Pharma entered into a Faustian Bargain. It supported the President’s proposal in exchange for a ban on the importation of foreign drugs (from Canada) into the United States. These are mostly drugs manufactured in the U.S., and then shipped to Canada for sale in Canada substantially lower than their sales price in the U.S. Congress will inevitably allow the importation as a means to lower drug costs.

The budget figures are phony. If published by a public corporation, criminal charges for securities fraud could be filed, but this is Congress which makes the laws, albeit not the laws of economics.

We will have in theory a tax in 2018 on Cadillac Health Insurance plans (won’t happen), a 2.3% tax in 2013 on medical instruments (which will, of course, drive up the cost of medical care and export manufacturing jobs offshore), and elimination of the employer subsidy for drug benefits for retirees.

Similarly, the nationalization of the federal student loan program was thrown into health reform bill to reduce the costs of health reform. Go figure!

Health insurers now exist as a privately funded welfare system

More lessons

No matter how economically bankrupt the plan may be, no matter how much it defies basic economics (think the California electricity debacle a few years back), Congress will not be to blame. Others, such as insurers, Pharma, providers will be demagogued.

Congressman Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee wrote a letter to the execs commanding their appearance before the Committee to explain their inexplicable actions. The Subcommittee Chair who co-signed the letter is the paragon of Congressional probity, Bart Stupak.

They are shocked, just shocked by these corporate actions since, as we all know, the Bill will substantially lower health costs.

Does anyone want to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

Congress was on notice of these issues before enactment of the act. Many of these benefits are bestowed through collective bargaining agreements. Bill Samuel, Legislator Director of the AFL-CIO, in December asked Congress not to enact the provision.

The corporate execs will probably play their role in the Congressional Kabuki before Congress’ Grand Inquisitor, Henry Waxman, but wouldn’t it be great if they simply pointed out the legal and accounting requirements and asked if members of Congress actually knew what they were voting for?

If Congress were Enron, they’ll be in jail for the financial legerdemain.

The second shoe will drop in January, or in November when health insurance rates are announced for next year, recognizing substantial cost increases imposed by the bill.

Supporters trumpet many of the immediate benefits:

Elimination of life time caps and annual limits on benefits

Coverage of preexisting conditions, including those of children

Non-cancellation of a policy when an insured becomes ill

Coverage of “children” on their parents’ policies until age 27

New plans must cover preventative services without a co-pay

These changes will be very advantageous to many Americans, but they are not cost free. Someone has to pay, and that someone will be the other policy holders. In short, premiums will rise to cover the costs.

Insurers will be hammered by politicians as they seek to impose these rate increases. The battles are already playing out in Maine and Massachusetts.

The Governor has ordered his insurance regulators to reject 235 of the 274 proposed increases. The Governor wants the legislature to restructure the way doctors and hospitals are paid.

Contrary to expectations, as with the new federal statute, the Romney Universal Health Insurance Bill in Massachusetts has driven up costs. For example, hospital costs per Massachusetts resident are about 55% above the national average. The state blames it on the power of the academic health centers rather than the basic laws of supply and demand.

Three of the four largest health insurers in Massachusetts had operating losses last year. They spend 88% of their premium incomes on the underlying costs of medical care. All are non-profits in more ways than one. Some insurers may risk insolvency.

Six insurers and a trade association have filed suit.

We lived in Massachusetts when the state squeezed (and demonized) auto insurers so tightly that all the major insurers bailed out of the state. A similar development was unfolding in New Jersey. We were rolled into a new company, Trust Insurance Company, for our auto insurance. We left Massachusetts in 1996, and Trust Insurance closed its doors by 2002. The problem was with the accident rate and stolen vehicles in Massachusetts, not the insurance companies.

So too with health insurance; the ”problem” is that an aging population needs more health care.

The unpopular governor is up for reelection this year. The Harvard educated governor has not learnt the lesson of the auto insurers in Massachusetts.

He’s trying to ride anti-health insurance animus to reelection.
Several insurers have also responded by refusing to write new policies. He just ordered the insurers to write policies at last year’s rates. Dictat, not competition, is the wave of the future in health care.

Maine is even more illustrative. The state has provided for universal coverage since 1993. Insurers must provide individual policies to all applicants. 1% of the insureds receive 50% of the claims benefits. As rates rose, the healthy, especially the young, dropped out, recognizing that they could always get coverage if they needed it. They became classic free-riders. But as they dropped out, premium receipts trailed escalating costs, resulting in ever steeper premium increases, and more free riders.

The insurers are meeting resistance on their proposed rate increases. Anthem sought an 18.5% rate increase on individual lines, including a 3% profit margin. The Maine Attorney General argued against any profit because of the “extreme financial hardship” of the insureds in this tough economic time.

The insurance commissioner approved a 10.9% increase which is now in litigation.

One of the legal problems faced by Anthem is that under insurance law states will often allow insurers to lose money on individual lines, such as personal health insurance, if they earn an overall profit in other lines, such as group coverage. For example, if auto insurers wished to quit the state, they also had to give up their homeowners insurance and all other business in the state. Anthem is making money in Maine.

Health insurers now exist, at least for awhile, as a privately funded welfare system in Maine and Massachusetts.

The third shoe just dropped. Congressman Bart Stupak announced he is not seeking reelection.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Al Ross and the Doggie Diner, R.I.P.

Al Ross died in Palm Springs last Wednesday at the age of 93. He led the good life - raised in Da Bronx, amateur boxer, pusher of a ice cream cart along the Embarcadero, he founded the Doggie Diner.

His passage marks another loss in the cultural history of San Francisco.

None of the recent transplants to San Francisco, as they sip their lattes from Seattle’s Starbucks, could ever understand, much less visualize, his impact on the City and the Bay Area during the middle third of the last century.

Al Ross created the Doggie Diner, a chain of 30 eclectically designed diners with the Plexiglas head of an iconic dachshund. The Doggie Diner survived almost 40 years, a long time for a dog, from 1949-1986.

The symbol of the chain was a 700 pound fiberglass, brown dachshund, wearing a chef’s cap and bowtie, rotating on a stick by each facility. Seeing was believing. Furnishings were vinyl stools and formica tables.

The Doggie Diner fit into a string of San Francisco eccentric: Emperor Norton; Chief Justice Terry of the California Supreme Court, who knifed an opponent in 1856, shot to death in a duel Senator Broderick, and then fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War; Melvin Belli, the King of Torts; The BVC and Irish Coffee; Chop Suey, and the cable Car named Desire.

America came of age in World War II. It emerged a changed country from the War. It was the next great superpower. The chains of the Great Depression had been cast off. A new belief in the power and greatness of America set in. Anything was possible.

And America grew. The cities grew up and they grew out. Great new American cities, especially Houston, Phoenix, and San Jose, arose. The suburbs exploded as the power of the automobile was unleashed on the new road systems.

Entrepreneurs arose to meet the new demands and cultural changes.

Al Ross founded the Doggie Diner in Oakland and spread it to 30 sites in the Bay Area, including 13 in prime locations in San Francisco. The Dog only had one major competitor, a chain named Mel’s Drive-in, made famous in American Graffiti and Universal Studios. These were where the teenagers hung out.

The dog was a rite of passage.

The word “doggie” denoted it was founded on “wieners,” but the burgers were special, not that it mattered. The chain’s classic motto was “We compete in quality not price.”

Absolutely nothing of significance, but everything of significance, was decided at the Dog. We are talking about teenagers prior to the pill.

Even in college, the Dog on Arguello and Geary was close to USF. A return to San Francisco always required a visit to the Dog.

Ross sold out in 1979, and the last Dog, appropriately across from the Zoo on Sloat, closed in 1986. By that time, it looked like a forlorn dog on its last gasps. It was an eyesore, but a beach eyesore in the sense of irreverent beach eyesores which time had passed by.

The problem faced by the Doggie Diner, as well as Mel’s, is that their facilities were too small to stay in business when land values were soaring. They couldn’t generate enough sales.

The development was different in burgeoning Southern California. The brothers McDonald, Richard and Maurice, started a hamburger stand in 1940 in San Bernardino. Glen Bell started with a hot dog stand in 1946, also in San Bernardino, and later sold $.19 tacos out of a side window. He formally opened Taco Bell in 1962. Carl Karcher had his own hot dog cart in Los Angeles in 1941 and then opened a drive-in BBQ in Anaheim in 1946, now known as Carl Jr.’s. Dave Barham opened his first Hot Dog on a Stick on Muscle Beach in 1946, while Robert O. Peterson established Jack in the Box in San Diego in 1951.

Last, but certainly most significant of all, Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first drive-through fast food restaurant in Baldwin Park on October 22, 1948. We revere their In and Out Burgers.

The Southern California chains spread like tentacles as the area boomed and plowed under thousands of farms. They reached Northern California and the old chains couldn’t compete.

But the Dog lives on.

A few have been preserved by private owners, and the City Council spent $25,000 a few years ago to facelift one of the Dogs and stand it on Sloat near the Beach as a landmark. It's not a beacon or foghorn. It's simply a tethered lost dog awaiting the return of its master. The Dog plaintively looks lost.

A piece of San Francisco died last week.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Annual White House Easter Egg Roll

Today is Easter Sunday, but tomorrow is the official White House Easter Egg Hunt and Egg Roll, thereby making Easter a four day weekend.

This year’s traditional, 13 decades old Easter Egg Roll is non-traditional in many ways, including that it is now a continuum of the Christmas/Santa Claus Season.
Forgive me therefore if I sometimes confuse the Holidays. Congress just keeps giving out gifts.

30,000 children of all ages will participate in the South Lawn Gala festivities, headlined by J.K. Rowling, Apolo Ohno, the cast of Glee, White House chefs, and a yoga instructor.

Egg rollers this year are instructed to search for specially designated eggs among the 14,000 hard boiled eggs.

This year’s egg hunt and roll has a wide variety, shape, and size of mostly chicken, duck, and turkey eggs, most in various hues of green.

For example, the military gets a khaki green “don’t ask, don’t tell” egg with a red line drawn through it. Acorn gets several smallish brownish green eggs, symbolizing that big trees out of little acorns grow. Acorn may have self-proclaimed its demise, but little acorns have sprouted everywhere in weed like manner.

SEIU gets a large, purplish green egg.

15 eggs are named recessed appointments. Trial lawyers receive a large raptor egg.

The UAW gets a mammoth reddish green GM Mark of Excellence egg, and a much smaller Chrysler blue egg (Be careful though picking this one up, for it is highly fragile).

The AFL-CIO has waiting for it a bulging card check egg, while undocumented immigrants search for a faded green amnesty egg (If not this year, then when?).

The Sierra Club, of course, receives the largest, solid bluish green egg courtesy of the EPA.

Goldman Sachs gets a gold tinted green egg, which it plans to collateralize in a credit default swap for the Oval (egg shaped) Office.

Toyota receives the NASA egg, while NASA is grounded with an Ostrich egg.

A puce egg awaits TSA, while 15 greenish beige eggs are reserved for the Cabinet members (Quick: name all 15 Cabinet members?).

Van Jones has a very red, with perceptible shades of green, egg.

A turkey egg, marked “BFD,“ is reserved for the Vice President. Rahm Emanuel is charged with searching for his special hardboiled "F.R." egg. Robert Gibbs has a special, pallid green egg and spam plate waiting for him,

Justice Stevens has a green, retirement nest egg reserved for him in Florida.

A shrinking ego egg goes to Lawrence Summers.

The progressives await a special meal of caviar while Senator Harry Reid continues to lay verbal eggs.

Some members of the House and Senate will pick up pink slipped unemployment eggs, the identities of which will not be revealed for 7 more months. The giving season continues to roll.

An unknown number of IRS eggs, signed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, are scattered around the South Lawn for tax scofflaw members of Congress and appointees to the Obama Administration.

President Obama has much to give blessings for this Easter Sunday; he earned several large eggs, leading off with the Nobel egg, noble but grotesque. He receives half a egg for TART (the other half claimed by a non-present President Bush), and whole eggs for Stimulus, Jobs Bill I,Detroit,student loans, and an exploding egg for health care reform. Two drone shaped eggs are marked "Al Qaeda" and "Taliban."

These eggs overshadow the crow's eggs for the 2016 Olympics and Copenhagen.

In addition, TOTUS has been replaced because of too much egg on its face.

Where is the rotten egg in this scene?

A few, special awards will be bestowed at the Roll. For example, Congressman Hank Johnson (D. Ga.) will be honored with the Egg Head Flat Earth Award for worrying about Guam tipping over, while Congressmen John Conyers (D. Mich.) and Phil Hare (D. Ill.) split the Egg Head Award for Constitutional Jurisprudence. Check out all three videos.

Beverages at the Gala include punch, but no tea bags.

Some of our historic friends, such as England with whom we have a special relationship, receive no eggs this year. On the contrary, England, Israel,Canada, India, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hamid Karzai all receive large, solid black lumps of bituminous coal - not even low sulphur lignite coal. Pharma, insurers, medical providers, and energy companies get goose eggs, if they’re lucky.

Investors, creditors, entrepreneurs, debenture holders, employers and employees receive baskets of taxes. Someone has to pay for the eggs.

The nuclear industry and off-shore oil have been promised eggs, but they’re really the victims of a shell game.

This egg hunt is not bipartisan. The GOP in its role as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or Scrooge McDuck (who cannot lay an egg) is uninvited to the festivities.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Apology for Intermittent Blogging

What an incredibly beautiful day! Dry, 70° sun, shining down on a sea of green, speckled with white, pink, blue, red, purple, and yellow buds and flowers. The landscape is stunning - a veritable kaleidoscope of pollen. Take it in, but try not to inhale if you have allergies.

El Nino brought heavy rains, timed to maximize pollination. The winter storms returned the Sierras to a normal snowpack, good for all of us, especially for ski slopes and also some farmers in the Central Valley, recipients of extra water rights as their two Democratic Representatives voted for health care.

Trees normally start pollinating in January out here on the coastal rim of the great Southwest desert. This year though they have been gushers since early March, hitting record levels. The end is not yet in sight, and the grasses have barely just begun. The pollen is relentless.

This year is different than the normal seasons, the Connecticut River Valley and the yellow rain, and the flat farm lands of Ohio with the winds blowing across the vast plains. This is different than the short term Santa Anas, wildfires, and infections.

Please don't tell me it's global warming.

And I am surviving on a steady regime of albuterol, Advair, and prednisone.

We learn to live with our chronic conditions. That is part of the human spirit.

I have known many colleagues, assistants, and students who suffer from addictions, allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiac conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, crone’s disease, diabetes, depression, eating disorders, epilepsy, high cholesterol, hypertension, pain, rheumatic fever, thyroid deficiencies, and are on dialysis. I feel for all of them, especially the students and other young adults. They’re too young.

I intend to resume tomorrow. Easter is always a time of renewal.