Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Disneyland Is Not the Happiest Place on Earth for Jose Martinez

Walt Disney created several great rides for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. One of them is “It’s a Small World”. He moved it to Disneyland, “The happiest Place on Earth,” when the Fair closed. You can’t escape it. The ride has globally spread like a virus, popping up at all the Disney theme parks. You can also take a virtual ride on YouTube. It’s a cute, mellow ride around the various continents and ethnicities with 350 audio-animatronic dolls serenading the passengers in gently flowing barges. This is not Indiana Jones, not even Pirates of the Caribbean – no climbs, no dips, no bumps, no jerks, no plunges. Just a nice smooth ride. Disney entertainment at its best. I’ve ridden it many times when I could afford an annual pass. But then there’s the song, “It’s a Small World (After All).” That’s about it for the lyrics. The Sherman Brothers wrote better songs for Walt Disney, but It’s a Small World is the one you remember. You can't escape it. It plays continuously, over and over, as you proceed slowly through the ride. It starts to knar on you, like a wart that won’t go away. The tune, but mostly the lyrics, keep growing in your psyche until you loathe it. It’s a small, small, small, small world after all. Disneyland varies the music to include Christmas Carols, but the Christmas Season is too short. Disneyland celebrated its 50th Anniversary over 18 months so there’s no reason why it can’t stretch the Holiday Season with the carols from Labor Day till Memorial Day. Let the tourists experience the Full Monte (loop) of the song. Poor Jose Martinez of San Pedro, California – not far from The Happiest Place on Earth. Jose is a paraplegic, who obviously cannot ride all of Disneyland’s wonderful attractions. He suffers from high blood pressure and panic attacks. Space Mountain would be a bad idea, but It’s a Small World is perfect for him. He had not been to Disneyland since he was a child. It was time to relive the memories. And there was Jose and his wife on November 27, 2009 in It’s a Small World near the end of the ride when it broke down. The exit dock was in sight. Relief was at hand. But not for Jose Martinez. As the phrase goes: "No way, Jose." Disney’s employees evacuated everyone else on the boats, but not Jose. They claimed they could not help him because of his disability. They also did not notify the Anaheim Fire Department of his presence. The AFD could have rescued Jose. The exit dock was in sight, but relief was not at hand. Alas, Disneyland could neither rescue Jose nor turn off the music. Joe sat in Hell, listening to 30 continuous minutes of It’s a Small World (After all). That is half an hour of cruel and unusual punishment. It is 30 minutes of severe emotional distress. It is 1,800 seconds of pure torture while the outside clock tick tocks. What would you pay to relieve yourself of this misery? The exit dock was in sight, but Jose could not relieve himself. He had to urinate but couldn’t. Jose suffered a panic attack while the Disney employees violated The Americans With Disabilities. Happy was one of the seven Dwarfs, but Hapless showed up. Bashful was hiding in Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Jose met up with Sneezy and Doc at the Disneyland First Aid Station. The Happiest Place on Earth also has a real operating jail. Jose Martinez exercised his fundamental American rights by suing Disney in Los Angeles. Only Dopey would sue Disneyland in Orange County if an alternative jurisdiction exists. Did a happy ending come to Jose Travails in the Happy Kingdom? Yes, and no. He just won his lawsuit, but the Grumpy Court only awarded him $8,000 ($4,000 for pain and suffering and $4,000 for access violations). That will barely cover his legal fees.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where is President Obama? The Golden Gate Bridge is Laying Off Its Toll Collectors

The Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the seven modern wonders of the world, San Francisco’s and perhaps California’s most famous landmark, is going electronic. Today was the last day for the toll collectors on the Golden Gate Bridge. They will be replaced tomorrow by automation. The good news for the laid off tollbooth collectors is that they can now breathe easier. They will no longer be inhaling the toxic exhaust of the cars and trucks passing through their tollbooths. The new fee for using a transponder with Fas Trak or credit card is $5. It’s $6 for the equipment to read the car’s license plate and then send a bill. The estimated savings by laying off the 9 full time and 28 part time collectors is $16 million over 5 years. The District increased the speed limit through the toll plaza to 25MPH, up from 15MPH. There should now be fewer bottlenecks on the bridge. The estimated cost of installing the fully electronic system is $3.2 million. The estimated deficit for the District over the next 5 years is $66 million. People are being laid off to save money. Yet the Golden Gate Bridge, which opened in 1937, has long since paid off its bonds. Nor does it cost a small fortune to maintain the bridge and keep it painted orange. The Bridge tolls contributed 68.7% of the District’s revenues in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, but expenditures for the bridge only equaled 25.6% of the budget. The Golden Gate Bridge is a cash cow. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District is another story. It is a fiscal black hole. or more accurately a red morass. The directors of the Bridge District would not rest on their laurels by paying off the original bridge bonds. Like any bureaucracy, they had to find a new purpose in life, a new meaning for their existence. They settled on mass transit, a guaranteed money-losing proposition. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District purchased the money losing Greyhound Bus commuter service from San Francisco to Marin County, turning it into the money losing Golden Gate Transit Bus Service (GGT). The GGT generates 8.3% of the District’s revenues, but consumes 44.5% of the expenditures. Not satisfied with the money losing bus system, the District then inaugurated a picturesque ferry service between Larkspur in Marin County and San Francisco. It only ran a 5.7% differential between the revenues and expenditures. Roughly 38 million vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in FY 2012, compared to 6.5 million bus passengers and 2.2 million ferry riders. The District laid off the toll collectors to further subsidize the mass transit operations. The bridge collector cutbacks are not a new development. Bridges shifted from collecting tolls both ways to one side only with doubled tolls decades ago. (Parking lots are increasingly automating their fee collections.) Why isn’t President Obama complaining about the displacement of the toll collectors, public employees all? He is seemingly opposed to this type of technological advance, especially when it results in the layoffs. He said in a June 14, 2012 in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry “There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” He almost sounded like a Luddite, complaining of automation. He sounded ignorant of economic efficiency. The tollbooth collectors can now join the ranks of parking lot attendants, elevator operators, and switchboard operators. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cannot blame this one on sequestration.

Monday, March 25, 2013

UCLA is Now the Graveyard of College Basketball Coaches Ohio State received the well-deserved reputation seven decades ago of being “the graveyard of football coaches.” UCLA with the firing of Coach Ben Howland on Sunday has now earned that sobriquet for basketball. Schools with exceptional success in an athletic program instill an expectation of continued success in the fan base. God help the succeeding coaches over whom the Sword of Damocles hangs. Winning in not enough. Winning big is insufficient. National championships, preferably with perfect seasons, are expected. Nick Saban has finally filled the shoes of Bear Bryant at Alabama. None of the six coaches between the Bear and Sabin measured up, not even Gene Stallings who won a national title in 1992. Ohio State had 5 coaches in 11 years before woody Hayes was hired in 1951. Woody won 5 national titles before being fired in 1978. His successor, Earle Bruce, was fired in 1987, as was John Cooper in 2000. Neither won a national title and both had losing records against Michigan. Jim Tressel won a national title in 2002 and dominated Michigan. He too was fired in 2011. If history is any guide, Urban Meyer’s years are numbered. Other football powers, Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and almost all the SEC will pull the trigger on coaches who don’t measure up. Historic basketball powers, such as Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina, have the same attitude. UCLA has achieved the Ohio State legend in basketball. John Wooden won 10 national titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1976. The great Adolph Rupp and Mike Krzyxewski have only won 4 each. The infante terrible Bobby Knight won three at Indiana. John Wooden’s record will not be broken in this era of “one and done” for the superstars. Pat Summitt at Tennessee came close with 8 titles for the Lady Vols, but she’s retired for medical reasons. The UCLA family expects basketball excellence. It is suffering from a case of excessive enthusiasm. Ben Howland did not win enough in the past five years, so he gets a $2.3 million buyout for next year. John Wooden never earned more than $30,000 and Woody Hayes $43,000. They represent a different era, one which was is not obsessed with multi million dollar athletic budgets – an era based on tradition and fundamentals rather than prime time. Win big and fill the seats. The five coaches who immediately followed Wooden lasted a total of 13 years. The pressure to win was too great. Nothing less than a national title was acceptable. The succeeding coaches of Jim Harrick, Steve Lavin, and now Ben Howland were fired. Harrick was not saved by winning a national title in 1994-95, the year before his termination. Pete Dalis, UCLA’s athletic director, wanted to fired Harrick for some time, and finally found an excuse in a recruiting violation. Some terminations are for conduct, such as hitting players on the opposing team (Woody Hayes), his own players (Bobby Knight), player misconduct (Tressel),or otherwise becoming an embarrassment to the institution (Tressel). Sports Illustrated published a year ago a feature article which dammed Howland and the UCLA basketball program. It is not pleasant reading, and is perhaps responsible for UCLA falling short of 10,000 tickets sold in all but 5 home games. Ben Howland stopped winning big and filling the seats. The players have increasingly quit, literally and figuratively, on him over his decade at UCLA, during the off season, during the season, and more recently during games. UCLA basketball has not been UCLA basketball for 37 years.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Recent Photo Ops Don't Show the Full Picture

Politics make for strange bedfellows. So do photo ops. Photos this past week show Pope Francis and Argentina President Cristina Kirchner warmly embracing each other with a slight kiss from the Pope bestowed on the President. Imagine they kissed and made up. Photos show another warm embrace between President Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with broad smiles and effusive praise. All is right in the world. President Kirchner and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio did not like each other. It’s fair to say they held each other in contempt. The Cardinal was outspoken in his opposition to her social agenda, including gay marriage. The Cardinal called her policies an “attack on God’s Plan.” She called him “medieval” He will be even more orthodox in ascending to the Papacy. Yet, President Kirchner was the first foreign leader to greet the new Cardinal Francis. She asked him to help convince England to return the Falkland Islands (The Malvinas) to Argentina. Popes can work miracles, but it’s almost 4 centuries since a Pope had a direct line to the British government. Imagine the John Lennon song “Imagine.” Imagine the Pope and the Argentina President really kissed and made up. Imagine if President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu either like or even respect each other. Imagine if President Obama had not insisted Israel revert to the 1967 borders. Imagine if President Obama hadn’t told French President Sarkozy what he really thought of the Israeli prime minister. Imagine if President Obama found time to meet with the Prime Minister rather than David Letterman in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. Imagine if the President had broken bread with the Prime Minister rather than ostracizing him. Imagine if President Obama had not so enthusiastically supported the Arab Spring, pushed out President Mubarak of Egypt, or did not send hundreds of millions of dollars and F 16’s to the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. Imagine that President Obama had a coherent foreign policy. Imagine if President Obama responded with alacrity to Benghazi rather than feckleness. Imagine that the people of Israel really believe President Obama. Imagine you can believe photos.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Hits on UPMC

The City of Pittsburgh is in trouble. The once Steel City has been drowning in underfunded pension liabilities for over a decade. The unfunded pension liability for the municipal employees is around $1 billion. The cash flow deficit in 2011 was $8.3 million. Over half of the city’s $460 million budget goes to debt, pension and health care expenditures. The city has pledged $730 million in parking tax receipts to the pension fund over the next 30 years. It’s a start, but not enough. The unions, of course, oppose pension reform. The coffers are ravenous. Mayor Ravenstahl keeps searching therefore for additional revenues to feed the beast. He proposed in 2009 a 1% tax on college tuition at Pittsburgh institutions of higher education, ranging from community colleges to The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. He dropped the proposal after the institutions agreed to voluntarily make payments in kind to the city. He’s still searching. His eyes focused on UPMC, formerly the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The University spun off UPMC in 1998 as an independent non-profit. The University maintains its medical school and control over the academic program and faculty appointments. UPMC has expanded to become the largest employer in Western Pennsylvania with 54,000 employees. 20 hospitals,4,200 beds, and 400 outpatient clinics. The $10 billion enterprise is ranked as one of the top 15 hospitals in the United States. The UPMC also pays property taxes on less than half of its holdings in Pittsburgh because of its status as a non-profit. One of the fiscal problems faced by cities like Pittsburgh is that an increasing percent of the land base is owned by non-profits such as churches, hospitals, museums, and universities. Pittsburgh lost much of its industrial base and corporate headquarters in recent decades, depriving the city of revenues. Pittsburgh’s conundrum is that much of its current economic base centers around UMPH, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon. They provide the jobs and economic revenues that fuels the region’s economy. He knows though that even if a Andrew Carnegie can move to New York or Andrew Mellon donate his extensive art collection to the National Gallery in Washington, Carnegie Mellon University remains in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued last year a decision, which limited the definition of charities. The Court held that a non-profit to qualify as an “institution of purely public charity” had to meet five standards: 1) Advance a charitable purpose; 2) Donate a substantial amount of its services; 3) Benefit a large portion of people who need charity; 4) Relieve the government of some of its burden; and 5) Operate entirely free of a profit motive. The Mayor claims that UPMA fails to meet one to three of these criteria. He claims that this battle is like David and Goliath and that ”Enough is enough. Today is the day we start to fight back.” He sounds like he’s trying to bully the medical institution as he did the two famous universities. UPMC claims to have provided $622 million in charity care and other community benefits last year. Mayor Ravenstahl filed actions against UPMC attempting to strip it of its tax exempt status. He wants to claim an additional $20 million annually in property taxes from the medical provider as well as six years of back payroll taxes. He asked the Allegheny County Court to order UPMC to pay the payroll taxes, and will challenge the non-profit’s tax exempt status before the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review. Not everyone likes UPMC and its economic power. The Service Employees International Union, for example, complains that it underpays the blue collar employees while paying excessive salaries to management. Several executives earn over $1 million annually. UPMC issued a press statement after the actions were announced. It starts out “The challenge to UPMC’s tax-exempt status appears to be based on the mistaken impression that a non-profit organization must conduct its affairs in a way that pleases certain labor unions, certain favored businesses, or particular political constituencies.” This battle may get interesting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Musings on March Madness

March Madness is here – three weeks of bracketmania which disrupt office productivity and cost a University of Washington football coach his job. March Madness - Three billion dollars in bets, enough for a down payment on Sequestration, and three times what the NCAA reaps from the tournament. The student athletes earn nothing. March madness where 64/68 teams compete to be the nation’s best in a year when no team wanted to be Number 1, especially Kentucky the returning national champion which did not even get into the tournament this year. Gonzaga ended the regular season ranked first in the nation, but only because it was the last team standing. Indiana, Duke, Louisville, and Michigan all tasted the sweet waters of numero uno and shot a brick. Indeed, Michigan celebrated its first taste on top since the Middle Ages by going 6-6 in its last 12 games. It’s quite capable of losing to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the first round or presumably VCC in the second round. Win one, Lose one, not “We On” is the team’s new motto. Michigan may suffer the infamous Sports Illustrated Jinx since SI named the sophomore guard the Player of the Year earlier today. Perhaps a Jesuit University will win the national title in the Year of the Jesuit. Gonzaga is seeded first in the NCAA’s with Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, and St. Louis in the tournament. How can you root against Zags, Hoyas, or Billikens? Will Pope Francis come to the finals if it matches two Jesuit schools? Georgetown, Loyola of Chicago, Marquette, and USF have won the title in the past. Perhaps 2013 will be the Year of the Big Conference, nee the Big Ten, but since 10 doesn’t equal 11, 12 or 14, it just goes as Big. The Big Conference was widely regarded this year as the best basketball conference with its top seven teams in the NCAA’s having beat up on each other in internecine games. The Big Conference has been disappointing in the NCAA’s in recent years, just like the football bowl games. Michigan State won in 2000 and Michigan in 1989. Indiana and Wisconsin were 3-3 in their most recent games and Michigan State 3-4. Minnesota lost 11 of the past16 games. The Big’s Magnificent 7 are not entering the Big Dance on a roll. Whatever happened to the ACC or Big East? The Big East has 8 teams in the Big Dance, its Last Tango. This is the end of the Big East as the seven Catholic basketball schools form a new conference having purchased the Big East Title. The new Big East Conference includes the eastern states of Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Maryland, a stalwart of the ACC, is taking the money to defect to the Big Conference, which needs a football patsy to replace the now competitive Northwestern. The Wildcats celebrated their record of never being invited to the NCAA’s by firing their coach. Will UCLA advance to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 to save Coach Ben Howland’s job? Probably not! Both the Athletic Department and the Business Office want him gone. Pauley Pavilion with a capacity of 13,800 cost $5 million to build in 1965, but $136 million to remodel and upgrade in 2012. The UCLA Bruins only had 5 home games with over 10,000 in attendance this past season. Howland’s buyout is $2.3 million. Do the math. How far short will one and done come this year? The four top seeds are Gonzaga, Louisville, Indiana, and Kansas from the Heartland. The odds are that none will cut down the nets in Atlanta. Wouldn't it be a hoot if Louisville wins this year after Kentucky won last year? Who will be the Cinderella this year? Who will be this year’s George Mason, Butler, VCU, or Gonzaga? Will Boise State do to basketball what it did to football? Who knows? Parity makes every team equal this year. Someone has to win though. Harvard is once again in the NCAA’s. Will it drop the H Bomb this year on an opposing team? Forget season records, average margin of victory, conference strength and strength of schedule, rebounding record, three point shooting, or the assist/turnover ratio, the decisive factor will be which team can consistently make free throws. The winner of the Office Pool will come from the Secretary Pool. She will know absolutely nothing about basketball. Either that or use the dartboard

Cyprus, Chief Justice Roberts, and ObamaCare

Chief Justice Roberts used the Taxation Clause to uphold an otherwise unconstitutional health care mandate. The Chief Justice, the decisive fifth vote, decided to defer to the President and Congress rather than exercise the Court’s power to declare a law unconstitutional. He in essence granted a blank check to the President and Congress to regulate and tax with our worrying about judicial review. He took the cases of the New Deal to a new dimension. He did not create the precedents for the vast power of the government to use taxation to accomplish political goals, but his decision empowers the President and a future Congress. He affirmed the essentially plenary powers of Congress to impose taxes. The Court has recognized that the power to tax is the power to destroy, but so be it. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government cannot take property without due process of law. However, the government can do so through the Taxation Clause. The Taxation Power can be deliberately used to weaken or destroy a business, industry or activity. The simple test is whether or not it raises revenue. A classic example was the contest between Seattle City Light, owned by the city of Seattle, and the privately owned Puget Power to supply electricity to the residents of Seattle. The Supreme Court upheld a Seattle excise tax on private electricity as a revenue bill even though the clear intent was to give Seattle City Light a major cost advantage. The City succeeded in monopolizing the distribution of electricity to its citizens. The federal income tax was once a nominally high 91% and the inheritance tax (estate tax) reached 55%. We think of taxes being on activities, such as earned income or capital gains. It can also be on property and capital, such as property taxes, auto excise taxes, and inheritance taxes. Cyprus is imposing a tax that is really wealth confiscation. To bail out the two largest banks on Cyprus, the government is proposing a “tax” on bank deposits, 6.75% on deposits up to €100,00 and 9.9% above that, adding up to about €5.8 billion. This wealth confiscation, posed as a tax, is billed as a one time only emergency act, but it threatens to set off a run on other European banks. Cyprus could create another risk of eminent collapse of the world’s still fragile financial system, a threat which we narrowly escaped 5 years ago. Ironically it is being pushed to do so by Germany and the International Monetary Fund, which do not want to bail out Cyprus. A large percent of the European population will resort to keeping their money under the mattress. That will be cheaper and safer than depositing it in banks paying a low interest rate, almost zero, but the state then seizing a share of the wealth. Cyprus’ economy is about €18 billion, but its banks hold deposits approaching €70 billion, much of it by Russians. Cyprus, like Spain, Portugal, and Italy, has suffered an economic meltdown. Its top two banks would be liquidated without a bailout. They face a shortfall of €10 billion out of a total €17.5 billion banking deficit. Argentina three years ago seized about $14 billion in private pension funds, claiming it would stabilize them and pay a higher return to the investors. The actions by Cyprus and Argentina would appear unthinkable in the United States, but not after the ObamaCare decision. In addition, one of the little known provisions in the Dodd-Frank statute, enacted after the financial meltdown, grants the federal government the right to seize any non-bank financial institution or any business engaged in extensive financial operations, whose failure could pose a risk to the financial stability of the country. The Constitution will no longer protect us, thanks to Chief Justice Roberts.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Could They Build It Today?

We take so much for granted in the buildings and infrastructure, cultural centers and icons that make America possible, especially life in urban centers. We celebrate them. Many are revered landmarks. Yet, most could not be built today. Community opposition, especially in affluent communities, environmental laws, especially restrictions on developments in wetlands, zoning ordinances and bureaucracies, environmental impact statements, NIMBY’s, and low to slow growth policies, stop major and minor projects. A simple example is that almost a decade passed before Ground Zero could be rebuilt. Here are some of these American classics: Arroyo Seco Parkway The Bay Bridge (The San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge) Bonneville Dam Brooklyn Bridge Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel The Dalles Empire State Building Fenway Park George Washington Bridge Golden Gate Bridge Grand Central Station Grand Coulee Dam Griffith Observatory Hetch Hetchy Highway 66 Hoover Dam Interstate Highway System Kennedy Airport LaGuardia Airport LAX Levittown Lincoln Center Logan Airport Los Angeles Aqueduct Madison Square Garden Oakland Airport Penn Station Pennsylvania Turnpike Pike Place Market Quabbin Reservoir River Rouge Plant Rockefeller Center Rose Bowl St. Lawrence Seaway San Diego Airport SFO Taconic Parkway Triborough Bridge Union Station (all of them) Whitestone Bridge Wrigley Field

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What Would Have Been Mayor Bloomberg's Next Step in His Food Crusade

What Next for Mayor Bloomberg’s Food Crusade? Mayor Bloomberg is motivated by the need to save New Yorkers from themselves in their dietary habits – hence the selective ban on large sugared beverages. That ban was overturned by a court last week, and the Mayor will be termed out of office soon. Let us assume though that the judicial decision is overturned and that the Mayor’s successors wish to not only carry through his goal but to expand it. Any such campaign to have even a chance of success would have to act against the purveyors of high calorie, high fat, high cholesterol, high sugar, and high salt foods: the restaurants. Would the Mayor and his successors want to take on these chains: Applebees Au Bon Pon Benihana Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Buffalo Wild Wings Burger King Capital Grill Chevys Chilpolte Chock Full o’ Nuts Cinnabon COSI Dominos Dunkin Donuts Fatburgers KFC Krispy Kreame Little Caesars McDonalds Mortons Nathan’s Famous Olive Garden Outback Steak House Paneras Papa Johns Pizza Hut Popeye’s Potbelly Quiznos Red Lobster Ruby Tuesday Ruth’s Chris Sbarros Starbucks Subway Taco Bell TGI Friday’s Tim Hortons Tommy Bahama Wendys White Castle Then we could include all the locally owned bars, restaurants, delis, and steak houses on the list, as well as events at Yankee Stadium and The Garden. The list would include such favorites as the Carnegie Deli, Gramercy Tavern, Grand Central Oyster Bar, Le Cirque, Petrosian's, Russian Tea Room, Sardi's, Shake Shack, Smith & Wollenskys, and the 21 Club. An extensive enforcement mechanism would need be established to prevent the ever-ingenious New Yorkers from “smuggling” Big Gulps into the Big Apple from “bootlegging” retailers across city or state lines. New Yorkers might eat better, but the economy will be dead while they will be exceedingly morose.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg's Incomplete Jihad Against Dangerous Food

As we know, a New York Court tossed out Mayor Bloomberg's selective ban of sugared beverages, partially because it was arbitrary and capricious. His response to the court decision lays out the issue: “Now, the best science tells us sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. Some people say: Just talk about the problem, raise awareness, and hope that results in change. But it’s not enough to talk, and it’s not enough to hope. We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all the rest of the people that live on God’s planet. And so while other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we’re doing something about it.” Therein lies the problem. It is not government’s responsibility to protect us from ourselves. Our country is based on human freedom, personal liberty. Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Motorcycle riding can be dangerous. So can sky diving or bungee jumping. Surfing is not risk free. Water skiing is a thrill and a half. Biking is not safe. Skate boarding leads to accidents. A large number of foods and beverages contain high levels of calories, cholesterol, salt or sugar. These food types may be dangerous to human health, as well as often posing risks to others: Alcohol leads the list. Prohibition didn’t work that well, did it? Bacon Beer Bologna Brownies Burritos Butter Cakes and cupcakes Calzones Candy Churros Cheese Cheeseburgers Chocolate Cinnamon rolls Coffee Cookies, including Girl Scout Cookies Corndogs Cream cheese Cream Puffs Crème Brûlée Croissants Donuts Eclairs Fajitas Foie Gras Fowl French Fries Frosted Flakes Fruitcakes Fudge Funnel Cakes Grinders, Heroes, Po Boys, Subs Hot dogs Hot Pockets Ice Cream Jams, jellies and preserves Kielbasa Lattes Lucky Charms Lunchables Macaroni and Cheese Maple Syrup Meatloaf Milk Milk Shakes Onion Rings Orange Juice Pasta Peanut butter Philly Cheesesteak Pies Pirogi Pizza Popcorn Potato Chips Potato Salad Pretzels Ramen Reuben Salad Dressing Shellfish (allergies) Sodas Strawberry Shortcake Syrups Tacos Tortes Tuna TV Dinners Twinkies What does His Honor propose for these foods?

A Jesuit Pope!

Who says the Church is behind the times? The College of Cardinals elected the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla Pope in 1978, breaking a long chain of Italian Pontiffs going back to 1523. They followed in 2005 by anointing German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. The Cardinals today elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the new Pope. Pope Francis is from Argentina, making him both the first Pope from the Third World and the New World. He’s not Hispanic though, being the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, which makes him the first Italian Pope from the New World. He is also though the first Jesuit to become Pope. That is revolutionary for the Church. You might even call it a miracle. The Jesuits have had a contentious relationship with European governments, usually royalty, and sometimes the Papacy. The Jesuits were banned in 1773 in all countries except Russia and its province of Poland. Many Jesuit priests were martyred for their religion in countries such as England. A few countries continued to ban Jesuits into the 20th Century. Members of the Society of Jesus take an oath of obedience to the Pope. Jesuits, being Jesuits, sometimes stray from the orthodoxy of the Church. The Pope occasionally reminds the Black Pope, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, of their religious obligations. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointed ten Jesuits as Cardinals, a sign of their acceptance in the Modern Church. Note carefully though that the Pope is not going to appoint a Cardinal who is opposed to the core Church teachings on abortion, contraception, and gay rights. Do not expect Pope Francis to change the teachings of the Church in these areas. Jesuits have two distinguishing characteristics; they are highly educated and highly progressive. Saint Ignatius of Loyola in founding the Society of Jesus in 1534 desired an educated priesthood. It normally takes about 13 years to receive the final vows as a Jesuit priest. The Jesuit in training will earn his Doctorate in Sacred Theology and often a Ph. D., J.D., or M.D. from a prestigious university during this time. Thus, the Jesuit priest is usually much more educated than the parish priest. The Jesuits are educators, scholars, missionaries, scientists, poets, writers, sociologists, community activists and occasionally parish priests They are the leading educators of the Church with scores of colleges, high schools, and a few elementary schools around the world. They founded over 100 universities around the world, 28 universities in the United States, usually to educate the sons of the Irish and Italian immigrants, often with night classes. They continue that legacy today with the sons and daughters of the Hispanic immigrants to America. My foremost impression of the Jesuits as educators is not, as you might think their dedication to teaching or their expertise, but their open mindedness, their catholic with a small “c” approach. They did not care so much what you thought, but that you thought. Jesuits are among the most liberal priests. They are thinkers, supportive of social justice. Many Jesuits became advocates of Liberation Theology in Latin America in response to the widespread poverty coupled with corrupt and often brutal dictatorships in the region. Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered in El Salvador on November 16, 1989 by the military because of their social advocacy. Other Jesuits, such as Fr. Robert Drinan, Dean of Boston College School of Law, became active in politics. He was elected to Congress from Boston until Pope John Paul II barred priests from electoral political activities. I am proud of the Jesuit education I received at the University of San Francisco. Pope Francis will accomplish many tasks in the upcoming years, but he will not radically change the Church. A. M. D. G.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg's Brilliant Idea: Let President Obama Golf

Sequestration is under way; public White House Tours are cancelled. President Obama, famous for his extensive golf and vacation days, has yet to do either during sequestration. Republicans though are questioning whether the President, or his wife and family, should do either on the public tab while sequestration is in effect. Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas has introduced a bill in Congress that would bar the President from using public funds in going to or coming from golf courses until the President restores the White House tours. Mayor Bloomberg has an opposite opinion. He thinks President Obama should continue golfing on weekends, albeit not just with friends. He needs to diversify the opinions of his foursomes. Maybe Julia could hit the links with the President. I agree with the Mayor on this one. Let the President golf! Would you rather the President A) Golf B) Speechify C) Politicize, or D) Perpetually campaign? Should he tee off on the golf course or the GOP? His golfing costs the American people hundreds of thousands of dollars per round. His leadership costs Americans hundreds of billions. Do the math! Do you want a divot on the course or in the economy? He earned his spot on the leaderboard. Par is whatever he scores – no bogeys. Do the full 18, not the short 9. Have a leisurely meal in the clubhouse. He can smoke while Michelle eats lobster without the presence of reporters. He saves the American people money whenever he golfs in D.C., Camp David, Chicago, Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, Augusta, St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Riviera, Spyglass, or Torrey Pines. President Obama can show his support for the military by touring all the golf courses on Air Force, Army, Marine, and Navy bases. He could show solidarity with the people on municipal golf courses. President Obama could provide us teachable moments on the golf courses. Let his motto be “Fore” rather than “Forward.” Better the President gets bogged down in sand traps rather than in legislative details. If he wishes to golf with Tiger Woods or John Boehner, let it be. President Obama is all for green. Golf courses are as green as they come. Air Force One gets a rest whenever President Obama is on the links. Presidents have a tough job. They need to relax. Ike and Ford golfed. JFK and LBJ scored. Clinton golfed and scored. He often needed a mulligan. Nixon drank and swore. George W. Bush chopped wood on his ranch, as did Reagan. George H. W. Bush shot horseshoes. Carter ??? That was his problem. Let the President golf. He can take his frustrations out by swinging at the small, dimpled white ball with a 9 Callaway Big Bertha.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Wozniak EMail Tax

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, is justly revered in Silicon Valley. Wozniak built the Apple I and the Apple II, unleashing the power of the chip onto the world. The Berkeley grad is in the Inventors Hall of Fame. Gordon Wozniak shares Steve’s last name. The Berzerkeley City Councilman, is also brilliant. He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Berkeley and was a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Research Lab from 1980 – 2002. Gordon went to Berkeley as a graduate student in 1966 and never left. He was there during the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, and Vietnam. He’s lives and breathes Berkeley. Gordon Wozniak was elected to the Berkeley City Council in 2002. He could not have survived in Berkeley politics as a conservative. The white-bearded, white haired, professorial looking Gordon Wozniak is living proof that brilliant people can be incredibly stupid at times. He proposed last Tuesday an internet bit tax of one cent per gigabit and 1/100 of a cent per email. How stupid is the idea? The Berkeley Clog, the online blog of The Daily Californian headlined a blog: “Taxing email? We can’t make this stuff up.” G. Wozniak’s purpose is, believe it or not, to save the Post Office, especially the architecturally beautiful Berkeley Post Ofice, which is earmarked for sale by the Post Office. He wants to tax email to save snail mail as well as to discourage spam. Liberals believe the solution to government’s problems, such as a $16.5 billion postal deficit, is to raise taxes.Imagine a century ago if government taxed the Model T to save the horse and carriage. Berkeley is progressive - not regressive. Traditional mail is dying in the age of the internet. The Post Office has to adjust to reality. Gordon Wozniak cannot save the Post Office from itself, even if he goes back to snail mail for personal and official communications. Nor will the tax work. For example, the government would have no way of taxing spam originating from outside the borders of the United States unless it taxes either the internet provider or the recipient of the spam. For now an internet tax is illegal. President Clinton signed the Internet Tax Freedom Act in 1998. It imposes a moratorium on government, federal, state, or local, taxing the internet. It expires in November 14 unless Congress renews it. If it doesn't, the Democrats will lose much of their Silicon Valley financing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Whither the Hess Christmas Truck

America suffers through a period of nostalgia. We mourn that which is lost: the corner grocer, the grandiose downtown theatre palace and department store, the revered restaurant, the drive in theatre, the bowling alley, HoJo’s, historic buildings, the neighborhood butcher, bookstore and baker, the local pharmacy, and Twinkies. Now though we face perhaps a greater loss: the Hess Christmas truck. Westerners, of course, have no idea what I'm writing about. Mores Hess started a heating oil business in 1925. His son, Leon Hess, took over the bankrupt business in 1933, acquiring a 615 gallon delivery truck. Leon built up the heating oil business. He pioneered the residual oil business, delivering oil to power plants. He learned how to win government contracts. He served as a Transportation Corps officer in World War II. His job was to supply oil to General Patton’s army. Hess built in 1966 the then largest refinery in the western hemisphere in St. Croix, the United States Virgin Island. Hess would buy crude oil from Venezuela, refine it into heating oil, ship it on foreign flagged tankers to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and retail the heating oil in the Northeast. He also took advantage of tax laws to gain an economic edge. His heating oil trucks became a ubiquitous sight during the winter season. He went on an acquisition binge over the years, acquiring the Amerada Corporation in 1969, and numerous other companies along the way. Amerada Hess became an international exploration, development, and oil producer. The company built up a chain of 1361 distinctive green and white service stations in 16 states along the eastern seaboard. Leon became a minority owner of the New York Jets in 1963 for $250,000 and later assumed total ownership until his death in 1999. Leon Hess shunned the spotlight, but he received large press coverage as owner of the Jets, partially because his team could never win the Super Bowl after Joe Nameth in Super Bowl III. The company issued its first Christmas toy truck in 1964. Christmas gold struck. The Christmas albums issued by singers couldn’t compare to the magic of the Hess truck. The annual tradition unleashed long lines at Hess stations over the Holidays – not necessarily for Hess gas, but for the trucks, which could include helicopters, patrol cars, suv’s, race cars, rescue vehicles, and fire engines. They are coin banks with battery operated features. Hess trucks are not your grandfather’s Matchbox or Mighty Tonka. They have long since stopped becoming toys for boys. Fathers look forward every year for the new Hess, perhaps to squirrel away and not share with the son. Hess’ annual model change has more meaning than Detroit’s. They are collector’s items, with some of the earlier trucks in mint condition fetching hundreds and thousands of dollars in today’s market. Hess Corporation announced on March 4, 2013 that it will sell off its refineries and retail operations to become a purely exploration and production company. The Hess brand name may join the gas company graveyard with Ashland, Boron, Enco, Esso, Flying A, Humble, Kyso, Pure, Richfield, Sohio, Tidewater, and Flying A. The question is: Forget Hess, what happens to the Hess trucks? The sales and profits from the Christmas trucks are petty cash to the $40 billion Hess enterprise. If the Hess brand name is discontinued, then the market for the trucks will probably disappear. Buying the iconic Hess truck at Toy’s r Us will not be the same.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Los Angeles Election Results

Los Angeles voters went to the polls yesterday unimpressed by the choices. Only 16% of the 1.8 million registered voters turned out to vote in the City’s election (292,760/1,817,107). As expected the two front runners for Mayor, Eric Carcetti and Wendy Greuel, came in first and second with 32.93% and 29.19% respectively. They proved yet again that money and TV ads can prevail against underfunded opponents. Kevin James, the Republican in the race, polled 16.4%, which approximates the Republican voter registration in the City of Angels. The public employee unions are celebrating. Indeed, SEIU Local 724 with 10,000 city employees, quickly endorsed Wendy Greuel. They know the winner of the May 21 runoff will be sympathetic to the unions and will not push for reform of the labor contracts. Wendy Greuel has pledged to “make LA more business friendly,” which does not correlate to keeping LA “union friendly.” Gil Carcetti has a more modest goal: “to fix LA one block at a time.” That will take more than 4 or 8 years in office since LA is 469 square miles. Unfortunately for the unions, Mayor Villaraigosa, and City Council President Herbert Wesson, the 16% who did vote rejected by a 10% margin the proposed ½ cent increase in the sales tax. The idea of a 9.75% city sales tax for declining municipal services was not attractive to voters. Voters realize that unfunded pension liabilities are the black hole in municipal budgets. LA’s current budget deficit is $200 million, but it’s rising like mercury in the warm Southern California clime. The new Mayor faces a budgetary train wreck.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

President Obama on Sequestration: "We shall manage it as best we can, try to minimize the impact on American families."

President Obama, after retreating from his Apocalyptic vision of Sequestration, said Tuesday “We shall manage it as best we can, try to minimize the impact on American families.” Therein lies the problem. The President does not govern; he campaigns. His Cabinet falls far short of President Lincoln’s Cabinet of greatness. An Administration focused on income redistribution and tax increases is not suddenly going to become one focused in fact on minimizing the impacts on the American family. Major decisions are generally made to boost the Obama Administration. Thus, the Obama Administration could claim it did not know what was happening in Benghazi even though it was viewing a continuous feed. More recently Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has apparently been acting as a rogue agency. Gary Mead abruptly resigned last week as Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations of ICE after releasing at least two thousands detainees scheduled for deportation. Jay Carney, spokesperson for the Administration, initially said only a few hundred were released. Then it said the White House had nothing to do with the releases. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, followed up by admitting she also knew nothing about the releases. The releases in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, New Orleans, and Texas, which were implemented prior to March 1, the day sequestration became effective, save an estimated $146/day per released detainee. The risk to the public is much great. Secretary Napolitano said TSA would have to cut back and planes would be delayed. Snowstorms billowing through Chicago have interfered with flight operations, but that’s normal this time of year. The TSA on the very eve of sequestration signed a contract for $50 million in new uniforms at $1,000/uniform. The uniforms are also partially made in Mexico. The Secretary of Education said before sequestration that teachers were receiving pink slips. He retracted the statement when asked to justify it. A distant President and ignorant Cabinet officials do not make for informed decision making. Contrary to the President’s claims, his sequestration cuts are not designed to minimize the impact on American families. Rather they are designed to maximize the political advantage to the Obama Administration. The cuts will be highly visible to maximize public pressure. Thus the White House announced today the suspicion of public tours of the White House. You can still arrange a visit to the White House by donating $500,000 to the President’s independent advocacy organization. There has been no talk from the White House about sequestering the President’s travel and golf trips. Lest we forget, The White House belongs to the people of the United States. Sequestration apparently did not prevent the Administration from giving $250 million to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Government Sequestration is an opportunity for agencies to cull waste and unnecessary programs from their agency. Most agency heads know where the deadwood lies. They could bring more efficiency into their agencies and the services they provide. That would minimize the impact on the public. That though is not going to happen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Los Angeles is Voting for Mayor on Tuesday

Angelenos are voting for their next mayor on Tuesday. The current mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is termed out. Political junkies should be excited. Campaigning did not end on November 6, and will probably continue into summer since none of the five candidates is expected to win a clear majority on Tuesday. Hence a runoff between the top two vote getters will be set. So far the election has been a snoozer. Even Wendy Gruel’s calling Garcetti and Parry “Liars” has received little traction. Five candidates are running for Mayor of Los Angeles, a city many predict is headed to bankruptcy within two years, partially due to the profligacy of the current mayor. The response of Mayor Villaraigosa during his first term, when informed that the city was in perilous economic condition, was to increase the payroll and offer salary increases to the city’s workers. The five candidates are Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry, Kevin James, and Emanuel Pleitez. All five are united in opposing Prop A, a half-cent increase in LA’s sales tax to 9.75%. Eric Garcetti is a city council member and son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who was voted out of office for incompetence. Eric is part Hispanic and speaks Spanish fluently. He is expected to win the Hispanic vote in Tuesday’s primary. LA politics are dominated by the Hispanic-Labor organization so he has an edge in making it into the runoff. Councilman Garcetti has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times. He is running neck and neck in the mid to high 20% range with Wendy Greuel, who left the Council in 2009 to become the city’s Controller. Both are running expensive TV campaigns. Wendy is campaigning for the Valley vote. The African American Councilwoman Jan Parry, like Eric Garcetti, is termed out, and should carry the sizable African American vote in the primary. She lacks the funds for a TV campaign so she is relying upon the mass mailings of placards. The unions don’t like her because she has supported attempts to rein in the generous benefits of the union employees. . Kevin James is the true oxymoron in the race. He is an openly gay Republican talk radio host. Money from outside California is funding his campaign with hard hitting ads. He has an outside chance of squeezing into a runoff. His ads feature Garcetti, Greuel, and Parry voting for the employee benefits that are bankrupting the city. The three voted in 2009 to give over 20,000 unionized workers a 25% pay increase over 5 years. The City of Los Angeles is running a $200 million annual deficit, which is expected to rise. The fifth candidate, Emanuel Plietiz, is a former high tech executive. The 30 year od candidate has unsuccessfully run for office before. He has no money and is capigning old school style by doorbelling the City. The numbers are against him. 1.4 million registered voters are in LA. He will only meet a few of them. Unfortunately for Los Angeles one of the five will be the next mayor. They’ll good people, but none is inspiring or shows any vision or desire to solve LA’s problems. Wendy Gruel’s campaign is funded by over $2 million from the State Prison Guard and Department of Public Works unions. The teachers support Garcetti. We in Orange County should care less who’s Mayor of LA. Our economic success and growth has always been partially based on not being LA. Entrepreneurs flee LA for the economic openness of Orange County. Orange County, for example, welcomes Walmart today whereas the unions fight keep it out of the City of Angels. LA though is the economic heart of Southern California. If it fails, the economic blow will fall over all of California. Garcetti and Greuel both pledge fiscal responsibility, but both also sought the endorsement of SEIU Local 721 with 10,000 municipal employees in its membership. The unions will win this election.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Today is Sequestration Day

Have you noticed that today, March 1, 2013, is Sequestration Day The sun rose in the east and is predicted to set in the west. The sky is a crystal clear blue even in Los Angeles. The sky is not falling. Neither is Chicken Little. The planes are flying. The trains are rolling. Mass transit is operating as normal. Police officers are still patrolling their beats. Traffic cops are directing traffic. Traffic lights are working. Firefighters are fighting fires. Emergency responders are responding to 911 calls. Meter maids are issuing tickets. Doctors are treating patients. Schools are open and teachers are teaching. The post office is delivering mail. Broadway is lit up. Courthouses are open. Cable and satellite reception are excellent. The internet is up Bloggers are blogging. Bob Woodward is still talking and writing. Movie theatres are open. Electricity is on and water is flowing. The Dow Jones closed 15 points short of an all time high. Interest rates remain low. Home sales are rising. ATM’s are dispensing cash. Landlines and cell are working fine. Fraud is continuing in the federal free cellphone, Medicare, and food stamp programs. The Los Angeles mayoral race is proceeding to next Tuesday. Armageddon has not arrived. It is not the end of the world. Juries are being sequestered. Our brave young men and women are fighting in Afghanistan. The American Flag is flying at full mast. Vice President Biden is due for another of his classic gaffes. Rush Limbaugh and Fox are still broadcasting. The Pontiff Emeritus has entered sequestration at Castel Gandolfo, but President Obama continues to pontificate against the Republicans. The federal government continues to spend more money this year than last. The federal government is paying its bills on time. The ObamaCare tax increases and the January 1 tax increases on the wealthy, which includes all working Americans, continues to suck money out of the private economy. Congress has adjourned. But today is sequestration day. America was on the brink of an economic collapse, the fiscal cliff, but nothing has changed in our daily lives. President Obama is crying wolf and fire too many times. Just wait until March 27 when the continuing appropriations bill expires and then two months later when the debt ceiling must be raised. President Obama will once again hyperventilate, but will anyone listen?