Saturday, May 25, 2013
Mark Sanford won redemption and a seat in Congress a few weeks ago. Anthony Wiener, the former Congressman, is now seeking redemption and election as Mayor of New York City. Don’t go there! Don’t write about it? What can you add that New Yorkers haven’t said and punned? Probably nothing. But then came Wednesday’s Pittsburgh mishap. One problem is that Congressman Wiener cannot use “I Love New York” as his campaign theme. He sought counseling after the 2011 “problem” – in Texas. Anthony Weiner’s campaign, just two days out of the starting block, crossed the line, went nowhere a New Yorker has ever gone – not New jersey, but Pittsburgh. He ran an ad, standing in front of a cityscape – of Pittsburgh. “I Love Pittsburgh doesn’t cut it in New York.” Andrew Carnegie left Pittsburgh for New York City. Andrew Mellon went out to Long Island. New Yorkers love the bold and brash, the in your face attitude. Weiner has the cojones. Why can’t the state that gave us Eliot Spitzer give us Anthony Wiener? He is the only candidate for Mayor of New York, perhaps the only candidate in American history to serially sextext strangers. Even Bret Favre focused on one woman. How’s this for a campaign slogan: “A Naked Mayor for the Naked City.” We worry about the sincerity of politicians. No problem with Weiner – he’s totally transparent. He’s got nothing to hide – the only candidate who has let it all hang out, on the internet no less. He did initially lie, that is, misstate the origin of the Wiener Tweet, but he has seen the light. He seeks redemption. He offers the Big Apple the Full Monte. The ex-Congressman is campaigning for the middle class. He vowed to make New York City “The middle class capitol of the world.” He started by moving from working class Queens to a luxury apartment on Park Avenue. His focus is on the “outer borough strip centers.” The unabashed liberal’s suggestion for more affordable housing in New York is to tax multi-million dollar housing. He’s running hard. He does nothing half-ass, perhaps bare assed, but not half-ass.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The critical question in Watergate was “What did they know, and when did they know it?? The IRS Hearings tell us that no one knew nutting about nutting – this ten days after Eric Holder, the Attorney General, answered “I don’t know” to many questions about the Associated Press taps. He knew nutting about nutting. Susan Rice in her 5 TV appearances on the Benghazi attacks toed the line of the “talking Points” even though they were false. Either she knew they were wrong or blithely ignored all the evidence to the contrary. Lois Lerner knew something, but she took the Fifth earlier today after proclaiming her innocence. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said several times last week that no one in the White House knew about the IRS transgressions. The phrase that arose out of Watergate was “Prior statement inoperative.” Douglas Shulman, retired Commissioner of the IRS, testified before Congressional Committees on the IRS targeting of conservative organizations: “This happened on my watch, but I do not accept responsibility.” He referred the matter it to the Inspector General, J. Russell George, when he heard there might be a problem, but never followed up with the Cincinnati office or attempt to stop the targeting. His answer earlier today to Congress on why he didn’t notify the House in testifying or responding to Congressional inquiries: “At that point I didn’t have anything accurate. I didn’t have a full set of facts to come back to Congress or the Committee with.” Of course, he made no effort to determine the facts. He willfully blinded himself. Deposed Acting Commissioner Steve Miller has testified to the same effect. They knew nothing, except they know it was not political, just like Lois Lerner proclaimed her innocence of any crime but took the Fifth. Does anyone, except Steve Miller, think the agency’s misconduct was the unilateral act of two rogue agents? The Secretary of the Treasury, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, the Counsel to the President, the Chief of Staff, and other aides knew of the Inspector General’s investigation of the IRS targeting of conservative groups, but they claim to know nothing of the details (we think). The brilliant President, of course, knows nothing. Plausible deniability is the operating criteria. The President claims to be shocked by the IRS revelations, just as he claims to support the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press. The President of a transparent administration runs an opaque administration except when he can take credit. Elections are won by maximizing your turnout while minimizing your opponents. The IRS was acting to suppress the Tea Party and other conservative organizations prior to the 2012 Presidential Election. The second step in May 2012, as knowledge of the targeting was starting to bubble to the surface, was to put the lid on through the election, just as Watergate did not blow until after President Nixon was safely reelected in 1976. No one involved has said that yet, but someone will. No one in the White House knows anything about that. The IRS officials come across as A) The Three Stooges B) Ostriches with their heads in the sand C) The Three Evils: “Hear no evil. Speak no evil, See no evil.” D) Perjurers Here are the possibilities: At best they willfully blinded themselves to the obvious. Then again, perhaps an innocent explanation exists for Shulman and Miller. We are looking at the faces of nameless, faceless career bureaucrats who rise by not making waves. The motto is “To get along, you go along” as you slowly, inexorably rise to the top as the Peter Principle works itself out. And then when you become Commissioner, you kick any problems down the road, such as to the Inspector General. You do not rock the boat. Too many people knew for two years through 4 separate IRS offices going into the 2012 Presidential Election of the IRS Campaign. They're playing dumb and dumber because they know the IRS intentionally targeted conservative political organizations, whether it was a low level decision local decision, came out of D.C headquarters,or is linked to the White House or reelection office in Chicago, remains to be seen., Here’s one fact we know. Lois Lerner’s husband is a partner in a law firm that did fund raising for President Obama. Someone will talk. The pressure cooker is about to blow on IRSGate.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Apple, thanks to the late Steve Jobs’ brilliance, has become the most successful technology company in the world. Apple has enriched America, Silicone Valley, and consumers. Apple has been successful, selling an essentially commodity product at a luxury price. Investors have been rewarded. It has amassed a cash horde of over $148 billion, of which 2/3 is overseas. Apple is the leader in one of the few industries in which America remains a leader in the global economy. Success has a price though. No good deed goes unpunished and seemingly every great American success story, especially if an economic success, needs to be trashed. Success arouses jealously in those less successful and draws out the demagogy in politicians. Apple pays little in income taxes. Its products are manufactured offshore and hence pass through several offshore corporations, often in Ireland. The transactions are structured to minimize the corporation’s tax bite. $74 billion in profits was parked overseas between 2009 and 2012. Once again it has outshined its competitors in offshore profits. All of which is legal under current United States tax laws. As long as the profits technically remain offshore, they are not subject to U.S. income taxes. The tax rate is 35% if they are repatriated to the US. Amazon, Google, HP, Microsoft, and Starbucks engage in the same “gimmicks” and “schemes” Apple has not pioneered the aggressive interpretation of the tax laws to minimize its taxes. Indeed, Apple has not been a industry pioneer since Steve Wozniak designed the first Apple computer, a true pioneer in the micro computer industry. Steve Jobs’ genius was to see the technology before his competitors, starting with the mouse. He instilled quality and design into his designers. The underappreciated MP3 became the IPod and the ITouch, the smart phone became the IPhone, a smaller tablet emerged as the IPad. All of these, plus the traditional Apple computers, took advantage of ITunes, his creative genius at work. For this, Senator Carl Levin (D Mich) pilloried Timothy Cook earlier today at a Senate Hearing. Senator McCain (R Ariz) is also outraged. He calls Apple the “most egregious offenders” as one of the “largest tax avoiders.” Apple’s Tim Cook simply replied that Apple pays all the taxes it legally owes, $6 billion in corporate income taxes for 2012, an effective tax rate of 30.5%. The Apple tax ploy is unfortunately unavailable to those of us who live on a salary, reported to the IRS, or companies whose business is mostly in the United States. Apple also, pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles, declares higher taxes on its shareholder reports than it actually pays to the IRS - again perfectly legal and common in the business world. Apple has decided to return $100 billion to shareholders in upcoming years through dividends and stock buybacks. It will not do so by bringing the overseas dollars back to the US, but by selling $17 billion in bonds, the interest on which is tax deductible, reducing Apple’s future tax bill to the IRS. Only with the screwed up corporate tax policy in the US does such an irrational corporate financial scheme make sense. Congress can always change the tax laws, such as by lowering the tax rate on corporate profits repatriated to the United States, but that would be “unfair” to the President and his accolades, who would prefer to redistribute, even if there is nothing to redistribute.
Monday, May 20, 2013
So many scandals; so little time! How can one keep track of the Obama Administration second term travails? Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the AP/Fox News reporters, and now the IRS? Let’s start with the IRS and the Tea Party. The timeline explains a lot, but is only “tentative” in the sense that more keeps dribbling out daily as the President and his aides continue to fumble the response. By way of background, most of the non-profit applications were assessed in the Cincinnati Office of the IRS by the Exempt Organizations Division with difficult calls going to the Determinations Unit. Some applications were also processed by offices in Washington, D.C., El Monte and Laguna Niguel, California. March 31, 2010: Colleen Kelley, President of the National Treasury Employees Union (IRS workers), met with President Obama at the White House. The Determinations Unit of the IRS in Cincinnati then proceeded to develop criteria for singling out certain groups. Coincidence? Wouldn’t you like to hear a tape of their discussions? May 2010: The Determinations Unit began developing a BOLO (“Be On the Look Out”) criteria for special treatment. June 2010: The IRS started teaching “specialists” on issues to be aware of, such as the Tea Party July 2010: Requested specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party cases August 2010: Distributed first BOLO list with the Tea Party on it September 2010: Senator Max Baucus (D Mont), Chair f the Senate Finance Committee, writes to IRS Commissioner David Shulman requesting the IRS survey any non-profit engaged in political or campaign activity February 2012: Democratic Senators Charles Schumer, Michael Bennett, Al Franklin, Jeff Markley, Jeanne Shaheen, Tom Udall, and Sheldon Whitehorse write a similar letter to Commissioner Shulman. June 2011: Determinations Unit added “Patriot” and “9/12 Project “to the BOLO June 29, 2011: Lois Lerner, Director of the Exempt Organizations Division based in D.C., was notified of the BOLO. She claims to have asked for the criteria to be revised. (Lois’ name will reoccur often in the timeline) July and August 2012: Senator Carl Levin complained to the IRS about its apparent passivity January 2012: Cincinnati started sending our exhaustive, extensive, and often illegal questionnaires to be filled in by 170 targeted organizations. 27 asked the applicants to disclose their donor list. January 25, 2012: The BOLO criteria was revised to: “Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social engineering reform/movement.” Reread this criteria carefully. The IRS singled out applicants who wished to educate Americans on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. March 2012: The Human Rights Campaign and the Huffington Post published confidential tax documents from the National Organization for Marriage. PrPublica requested the applications of 67 non-profits. The IRS responded, with 31 applications, including the applications of 9 conservative groups whose applications had not yet been approved and hence legally were to remain confidential. ProPublic published 6 of them. March 2012: Congressman Darrell Issa (R Ca), Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Congressman Jim Jordan (R Ohio), asked Lerner for a list of the organizations that had been subjected to special treatment. She refused, quoting Section 6104(a) of the Taxation Code that provides only the applications of organizations that have ben granted tax exempt status are subject to disclosure. And yet the IRS in the same month disclosed confidential information to ProPublica. April 26, 2012: Lerner writes the Agency is trying “to promote consistent handling” of tax exempt applications. IRS agents used “sound reasoning based on tax law, training, and his or her own experience.” May 3, 2012: Steve Miller, Deputy Commissioner, learns the agency had singled out groups by name.. He was told that some applications for tax exempt status were improperly selected for extra attention. Dave Shulman, IRS Commissioner, was also informed of the activities. June 15, 2012: Miller letter to Congress: The IRS “took steps to coordinate the handling of cases to ensure consistency” in response to an increase in applications. July 25, 2012: Miller in testimony before Congress fails to inform it of the agency’s targeting of conservative groups. November2012: Deputy IRS Commissioner Miller appointed to Acting Commissioner March 15, 2013: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was told by the Inspector General that an “audit” was forthcoming. Secretary Lew, who did not know how much was in his offshore bank account, should not be confused with his predecessor, Timothy Geithner, who blamed his tax cheating on TurboTax. Treasury officials were provided a draft of the IG’s Report. May 8, 2013: Lerner testified before a Congressional Committee. Representative Joseph Crowley (D. NY) about the status of 501(C)4 organizations. Her response was bland with no mention of the impending IG Report. Representative Crowley believes he was lied to and wants Lerner fired. May 10, 2013: Lerner disclosed and apologized for the targeting of conservative groups at an ABA Tax Conference. She blamed it on “low-level” employees. Steve Miller blamed it on two rogue employees who have been disciplined. We learn last next week that Lerner had planted the question with a friend, Celia Roady. Lerner and Miller had decided to get ahead of the Inspector General’s Report, which they knew would be issued soon. May 16, 2011: Joseph Grant, Deputy Commissioner of Tax Exempt and Government Entities, announces his resignation, effective June 3, 2013. May 17, 2013: Deposed Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee, displaying both incredible arrogance and insulting our intelligence. A classic statement is ”I can say, generally, we provided horrible customer service here.” He declaimed any political motivation by the IRS employees: “I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people who were trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.” President Obama holds a press conference, appropriately in the rain, with Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan. The President is asked if White House officials knew of the IRS targeting of conservative organizations. His response was non-responsive: “I knew nothing about the IG Report before it was leaked to the press.” So far the President has plausible deniability. May 20, 2013: Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post awards 4 Pinocchios to Los Lerner for her misstatements about the surge in applications by the political advocacy organizations. Contrary to Lerner’s statement, the surge in applications did not occur until 2011, after the Determinations Unit started the BOLO. May 19, 2013: White House Senior Aide Dan Pfeiffer on 5 TV shows said the White House did not know the details of the investigation or its conclusions until its release on May 14. May 19, 2013: The New York Times runs a full page article attributing the IRS’ problems on understaffing combined with a substantial increase in applications. May 20, 2013: Jay Carney acknowledges to reporters that White House officials knew of the Inspector General’s review earlier than previously disclosed (by Jay Carney). A staffer of White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned of the investigation during the week of April 16. Ruemmler was informed on April 24, and then notified the White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and other aides of the findings of misconduct by “a small number of IRS employees.” Jay Carney still claims President Obama did not know of the IRS’s actions until the news reports came out. Chicago Rules Open dates: When will Lois Lerner be thrown under the bus? When will the White House become aware of what the White House was aware of? Will President Obama adopt the Truman credo: “The Buck Stops Here”? When will the President be forced to appoint a special prosecutor?
Friday, May 17, 2013
Some prognisticators and commentators are bring up Watergate. Some conservatives are embracing the idea. Let’s recognize reality: Fast and Furious, Benghazigate, APgate, and IRSgate, will not result in the removal of President Obama from office. Yet, the scandals of President Obama are as great as though of President Nixon. Obama’s Chicago Rules are more sophisticated and heavy handed than Nixons’ Dirty Tricks. Both wanted to win reelection at any cost. Both had a enemy’s list with President Obama’s avowed enemies including conservative media voices, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fox News. Nixon wanted to use the IRS to go after political enemies, but the IRS Commissioner balked. Obama’s IRS ramped up to warp speed against conservative organizations. President Nixon’s ace in the hole was Vice President Spiro Agnew. He didn’t realize that VP Agnew would be tossed from office before President Nixon. President Obama’s ace in the hole is Vice President Joe Biden. He’s not going anywhere. President Nixon faced overwhelming Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. President Obama faces a Republican House, but a strong Democratic Senate, at least until 2014. Watergate involved massive campaign violations, but President Obama’s prolific fund raising is not illegal. The mainstream media loves President Obama. They may be engaged in a shot term lover’s spat, but their love will last. The media loathed President Nixon; the hatred was mutual. Watergate was pursued by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodruff of the Washington Post. The Washington Post and New York Times are not going to run President Obama out of the White House. The Post had “Deep Throat.” Is there a Deep Throat in the current White House? President Nixon secretly recorded White House conversations. These tapes were the final nail in the President’ political coffin. The odds of finding a “smoking gun,” hardcopy, digital, or video, against President Obama are fairly slim. He is a hands-off manager, preferring to spend his time golfing and fundraising. President Nixon tried to staunch the bleeding by tossing John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman under the bus, while John Dean voluntarily jumped. President Obama will throw trusted advisors under the bus if necessary, but he can rely upon Eric Holder as Attorney General to block any meaningful inquiries. The Attorney’s General’s recent responses to Congressional inquiries is “I don’t know.” President Nixon was forced to accept an independent counsel. Congress will be unable to force one unto President Obama, even if the Republicans control both houses of Congress after the midterm elections. President Nixon was never personally liked and popular. President Obama maintains his personal popularity with the American public. “Tricky Dickie’s” reputation caught up to him. Vietnam and the draft were an albatross around President Nixon’s neck President Obama faces no such socially divisive issues.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Keene is a beautiful city of about 23,500 in New Hampshire. Like most cities, large and small, it derives substantial revenue from parking meters in the downtown area, and the parking tickets issued for not paying the meter. The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die.” A few residents of Keene are living up to the state motto. They are part of the Free Keene group. They’re also known as Robin Hood of Keene or Robin Hooders. Either they have found their meaning in life, or they have nothing better to do in the idyllic Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire. They patrol downtown Keene looking for cars parked at expired parking meters. They then reach into their pockets and feed the meter, leaving a card on the windshield wipers: “Your meter expired; however, we saved you from the king’s tariff’s, Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Please pay it going forward.” They also provide a mailing address to send contributions. They claim to have forestalled the issuance of 4,000 parking tickets. They are especially elated when they can get to a meter before the three Keene parking enforcement officials, also known as meter maids, reach the vehicle and issue a ticket Keene, or at least its officials, are upset at this public act of rebellion. There’s not much they can do about it directly. Also frustrated are the three meter maids. Keene filed suit against six Robin Hooders, accusing them of taunting and harassing the not so merry meter maids. The language used in the encounters may or may not include some old Anglo Saxon expletives. The slings and arrows are verbal, pointed and sharp. The not so merry meter maids complain of emotional distress, but care not of the emotional distress they inflict on the owners of the cars they ticket. The meter maids versus the Robin Hooders is not a friendly rivalry. Robin Hood versus Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham is more like it. Both sides are using video cameras to record the festivities. Santa Claus traces back to the 4th Century, but history tells us naught of the historic Robin Hood – so little in fact that we know not if Robin Hood ever existed. The video camera will probably tell us more than we ever want to know of the modern Robin Hoods. The named defendants do not include Robin Hood, Robin of Loxley, Friar Tuck, Little John or Maid Mariam. The city seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the Merry Men of Keene from getting within 50 feet of the not merry meter maids of Keene. The effect of the injunction would cripple the Robin Hooders since it is often a race to the meter between the opposing forces. The moving fifty feet exclusionary zone would give the meter maids an insurmountable head start in the small town. Robin Hood won his war with authority. The Robin Hooders have a good chance of winning theirs.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority says MTA Says Angelenos are not Angels Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Los Angeles is the post World War II metropolis of the automobile. Detroit built the cars, but LA drove them. Even the fabled surfers carried their surfboards to Malibu on Woodys. Los Angeles abandoned the last of its 1,000 interurban rail system in 1963, The Red Cars had their last ride except in a Disney movie. The Pacific Electric Railway of Henry Huntington defined the Los Angeles basin. Cars and surf were the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Freeways, traffic, and Sig Alerts are the LA Culture. Unknown to the world, Los Angeles has had a nascent subway system since 1993 when 4.5 miles of a new Red Line and 5 stations opened. The city now has 88 miles of subway and light rail linking downtown to Long Beach and Pasadena. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was so desperate to lure Angelenos out of their cars into subways that the stations were built without turnstiles. Riders were on the honor system. The absence of locked gates and turnstiles gave rise to a generation of free riders. The chances of being busted for riding without a ticket were so small that up a majority of the 360,000 daily riders risked the $250 fine, which in turn is often unenforced. The idea of getting a free ride from the government is irresistible in the City of Angels. The MTA is so disappointed with the lack of honor by the otherwise green riders that it is spending $46 million to install the new electronic, gated system and $103,000 monthly to maintain – all to collect a $1.50 fare. It might not pay for itself, but riders will now be green with honor. Let’s think about Los Angeles and integrity and the honor system. Mayor Villaraigosa, the $100,000 moocher of complimentary tickets to games and concerts, has touted “LA’s Subway to the Sea,” although the subway is planned to end at the VA Hospital on Veterans Ave., near the 405 and a long, dangerous 3 mile walk to the sandy shores and waves of the Pacific. Los Angeles is Hollywood, which supports a league of attorneys and accountants to audit the entertainment companies as they attempt to cheat actors, directors, writers, agents, and musicians out of their rightful royalties and percentages. Los Angeles is the Walt Disney Company, which attempted to copyright “Seal Team Six” and “Dia de los Muertos.” Los Angeles is a city which issues $63 tickets for parking at broken parking meters. The ticketing is worth about $5 million annually in the city’s coffers. Los Angeles has now installed new electronic meters to replace the old mechanical meters. The new meters automatically revert to a zero balance when a parked car backs out. Los Angeles municipalities have a large number of municipal officials, both elected and appointed, under indictment for various forms of corruption and breaches of the public trust. Finally, let us recognize that New York City issued new tokens when it increased subway fares. It knew from experience that if it continued with the old tokens, new Yorkers would invest thousands in them to beat the fare increase. It eliminated the problem when it went to electronic fares. That’s New York; this is LA, but freeriders are a universal phenomenon.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Nine days to go before Los Angelenos elect a new mayor to succeed the hapless Antonio Villaraigosa. The existing power establishment, the coalition between labor and Hispanics, should be happy. Two solid, liberal supporters of unions, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel, face off. Eric Garcetti is President of the City Council. Wendy Gruel, a former Councilmember, is the outgoing City Controller. Both are wired into LA. Garcetti is the son of the former District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, and Wendy Gruel has seemingly worked in the power establishment of LA for decades. Wendy received the endorsements of President Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer, former Mayor Richard Riordan, Magic Johnson, and Delores Huerta. She has substantial union backing. The LA Times endorsed Garcetti. All’s not as it seems. Eric’s dad is Mexican American, Spanish and Italian. His mom is Russian Jewish. Thus, Eric is Jewish. He represents the melting pot of America: an Italian Jewish Spanish Mexican American. Wendy, the daughter of a Christian minister, is married to a Jewish lawyer/filmmaker. The Jewish vote is big in LA. The Mexican American vote is bigger, but trail the African American and Caucasian vote in LA. Both grew up in the Valley, the fabled San Fernando Valley. Wendy still lives in the Valley. Valley voters are mostly Hispanic or conservative whites. Indeed, Wendy was a registered Republican for 13 years. Wendy attended UCLA while Eric went to Columbia and is a Rhodes Scholar. Wendy Gruel in the primaries called Eric Garcettti and Jan Perry, an African American councilmember “liars.” Jan Perry has endorsed Eric for Mayor. Wendy went negative eight weeks ago in the general election and Eric responded in kind. She is short of campaign money and has asked for a ceasefire on the negatives. He’s wining the ad battle. She’s almost out of money in her campaign chest. Her big ad buy hasn’t closed the deal. Split polls are out. The LA Times Poll, often inaccurate in Presidential elections, has Garcetti winning big. A recent Cal State Los Angeles poll gives a slight lead to Wendy. None of these factoids mean much of anything in the election. The public employee unions have overwhelmingly supported Wendy Gruel. That would normally be the clincher. This year though the unions and their contributions have become an Albatross wrapped around the Controller’s neck. The City is broke with many prognosticators predicting bankruptcy in a few years. The public employee unions are getting the blame. Wendy Gruel has been endorsed by the SEIU, IBEW, the LA County Federation of Labor, the Hotel Workers, and the police and fire unions. The union’s objections to Garcetti are twofold. First, he voted to reduce the number of fire fighters. Second, he voted on a pension reform package that mostly cuts the benefits of new city employees. Wendy Gruel did not vote on these measures, necessary in light of the financial crisis facing the city, which occurred after she left the Council. The IBEW (International Brother of Electrical Workers) has poured $3.8 million into her campaign through an independent organization. They are her financial lifeline. The firefighters have tossed in $580,347 and the firefighters $259,000. Voters are outraged at the Department of Public Works, the supplier of water and electricity to much of Los Angeles. Mayor Villaraigosa has tried to substantially raise rates, supposedly to go “green.” Green turned out to be the wages paid the 10,000 LADWP workers, 8,000 of whom are members of the IBEW. The LADWP workers are paid an average 50% more than the other city employees and 25% more then their counterparts at comparable private and public utilities. The average pay for LADWP workers rose 15% over the past 5 years compared to 9% for the other city employees, including police and fire. The average wage of DWP workers in 2012 was $101,237, up from $88299 in 2008. By way of contrast the median household income for Los Angeles fell to $46,148 in 2011 from $48,882 in 2008. IBEW officials have stated they expect pay increases from the next Mayor when the contract is up for renewal. Eric Garcetti’s brutal, negative ad wraps the DWP around her: “3.8 million. The DWP’s Mayor. How much will it cost you?” It points out that in her eight years as City Controller she never uncovered any waste in the $7 billion DWP budget nor audited the DWP labor contracts. The story picks up today with an article in the LA Times. The SEIU, which supports Wendy Gruel, has its members believing they will receive a “living wage” of $15/hour from Wendy Gruel. A union loudspeaker truck blares “Wendy, la Wendy. We’re gonna vote. $15 an hour we’ll make. Wendy, la Wendy, we’re gonna dance. Eric Garcetti start crying.” The living wage proposal is technically for unionized hotel workers, but the campaigning is for across the board. Where does Wendy Gruel stand on the Living Wage? She was equivocal earlier yesterday, but then came out for it later in the afternoon. The recent IBEW funding might have affected her decision.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
South Carolina voters returned former Governor Mark Sanford to his former House Seat by a 54-45 margin over Elizabeth Colberg-Busch. Christians believe in Salvation and Redemption. South Carolina voters believe in Republicans. Charleston voters do not believe in liberal Democrats. Elizabeth tarred Mark with the scandal. Mark tarred Elizabeth with Nancy Pelosi, which is a four-letter word in Dixie. Democrats, sensing an upset, poured a fortune into the campaign for Steven Colberg’s sister. They saw a chance to steal a safe Republican seat and give national Democrats a morale boost. Congressman-elect Sandford won his old Congressional seat back with no support from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Liberals salivated. Republicans voted. Mark Sanford received political redemption and thanked God. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer gets no redemption; bringing a New Jersey hooker to D.C. by train is too tawdry. Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Barney Frank survived sex scandals. So did Chris Dodd, but the Countrywide mortgages were too big a cross to bear. Charles Robb survived Miss Virginia and her Playboy poses, but lost reelection the second time. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana was reelected to the Senate in 2010, the D.C. Madam being three years earlier. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York may be seeking political redemption. He announced on Wednesday, April 10 that he was thinking of running for Mayor of New York City. He immediately polled second in the race, probably based on name recognition. Congressman Weiner was the frontrunner until his disgrace a year ago. Let’s look at Governor Sanford’s and Congressman Weiner’s transgressions. Remember Michael Corleone in the Godfather? He’s exiled to Sicily. The “thunderbolt” strikes him when he meets the Don’s daughter. He is smitten, deeply in love, losing all sense of reality. It is truly love at first sight. That is Mark Sandberg. The thunderbolt struck him as he eyed Maria Belen Chapur, “The Argentine Firecracker.” He lost it. He was blinded by love, losing touch with reality. The Governor, while supposedly hiking the Appalachians from June 18-24,2009, was traipsing around Argentina with Maria. So much for his family, his incredible wife Jenny and four sons. So much for the mummers about the Presidency or Vice Presidency. The Eagle Scout had met his soulmate in life. He threw it all away for Maria. True love - the thunderbolt. Congressman Weiner sexted his penis to a stranger, a woman who didn’t know him. He sent salacious messages to many women. He then lied to the public, claiming someone hacked into his twitter account and sent out the penis. Gross stupidity. The thunderbolt is understandable. We recognize that it can happen. One of the first stages of love is often to transcend the rational. The heart trumps the brain, not necessarily to the extent of the Governor, but we know it can happen. Sexting one’s private parts to a stranger is just plain bizarre. Even jaded and jaundiced New Yorkers can’t figure that one out. Whether it’s Bret Favre or Anthony Weiner, even if intoxicated or otherwise under the influence, the public will not accept it. It’s just sick. He resigned from Congress on June 16, 2011. He didn’t seek redemption. Instead the liberal became a capitalist advising business on the intricacies of navigating government. He moved from Queens to Park Avenue South. Jenna did not stand by her man. A pregnant Huma did. Congressman Sanford is back in Congress and engaged to Maria. He has found redemption. 2014 is looking good for Republicans.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Remember the 3:00am telephone call ad by Senator Clinton in 2008? It was her attempt to label Senator Obama inexperienced. Here’s the TV ad: “It’s 3:00am and your children are asleep. “There’s a phone in the White House. And it’s ringing. Something is happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers the call. “Whether someone knows the world’s leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead. T’s 3:0am and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?” Apparently neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton after their response to the Benghazi Tragedy. They received the phone call as the attack commenced. The Administration had a live feed from Benghazi. Once again though it was an election year. The Administration’s claim was that Ben-Ladin was dead, and so was Al Qaeda. No terrorist attack could be acknowledged since it would cut to the core of the reelection campaign: “GM’s alive and Bin-Ladin dead.” The political decision was made: Deny, deny, deny, and coverup. Sounds like President Nixon and the Watergate Breakin – jut a third rate burglary. General Carter Ham, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, wanted to act to save the Americans. He started to organize a rescue attempt. He was summarily replaced. The White House subsequently asserted that the CIA that stopped any rescue attempt. The CIA under General Petraeus denied it. He was replaced. A four-man special ops team in Tripoli was about to board a C130. They were told to stand down. A second special ops team was also told to stand down. Fighter planes could have been dispatched the 480 miles from Italy to support the Americans in Benghazi. They were not even scrambled while the two security officers, ex-Seals, were laser targeting the opposing mortar sight for aerial support. No AC 130 was sent to their assistance. The State Department, whose credibility is suspect, denies the claims that Secretary of State Clinton and her aide, Patrick Kennedy, tried to cut the Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau out of the loop. State Department employees in Libya knew immediately the attack on the Consulate was a terrorist attack. Yet, the draft talking points eliminated any reference to terrorism and terrorist organizations. Instead, the final talking points asserted the attacks represented a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video no one had ever heard of or viewed until the White House resurrected it. Secretary Clinton talked to President Obama around 4 in the afternoon, and by 10:00pm issued a statement denouncing the video. Maybe just a coincidence? The producer of the video, Mark Bassealy Youssef, is still in jail. The Administration could not dispatch support for the endangered Americans, but five days after the attacks it dispatched UN Ambassador Susan Rice to 5 Saturday talk shows to spread the new talking points that spontaneous riots erupted in response to the video. President Obama spoke out against the video. Secretary Clinton could not send help to Benghazi, but the State Department spent almost $1 million in TV ads in Pakistan decrying the video. The Obama Administration, which did not send help to Benghazi, subsequently had trouble dispatching the FBI to Benghazi. The FBI agents cooled their heels in Tripoli for three weeks before they left for Benghazi. They only spent about 3 hours in Benghazi before leaving. The coverup worked because the media, except for Fox, bought it. Not so much today. The networks are now questioning the Administration’s timeline and stories. The House will hold hearings on Wednesday. The coverup worked because Governor Romney was scared to push it during the debates. The media had already attacked him for questioning the Administration. We saw photos of the situation room during the takedown of Osama Bin-Laden. Where are the photos of the Situation Room during the standdowm of the Military and CIA? Secretary Clinton said its past. Jay Carney said its past. So was Watergate when the 1972 election was over, but didn’t stop the media or Democrats from pursuing Watergate and driving President Nixon from office. No one died in Watergate. Where was Secretary of State Clinton between 4pm and 10pm? It’s not ancient history since the American people need to know if the failed response to Benghazi was an act of incompetence or a calculated decision to subordinate military considerations to a political imperative. It’s not over because the American people need to know who made the order for the United States Military to stand down. The Secretary of State does not have that authority. America's enemies are becoming more fearless while the Administration is feckless.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Foreign powers and conquerors have often invaded the Subcontinent, but only England managed to subjugate the entire Sub-continent. Unity was not meant to last. England’s grant of independence resulted in the Bloody Partition; India, to the geographic extent possible, was split between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Punjab, the ancestral home of the Sikhs, was divided. The Muslims headed west to the new Pakistan and the Hindus and Sikhs east to India. Bengal on the other side was split in half. This economically poor area had the predominately Muslim eastern half join with Pakistan and the Hindu west joined India as West Bengal. The two parts of Pakistan were separated by both India and politics. 700 miles of India separated the two halves of Pakistan. The military and political elite of the western part, Pakistan proper, controlled the country, such that Bangladesh was treated like a poor stepchild. Cyclone Bhola ravaged Bangladesh in 1970, killing up to 500,000 (accurate counts are impossible in these tragedies). The government’s response was weak, leading to unrest in Bangladesh. The response was sending in the military to suppress unrest in Bangladesh, unleashing a civil war. India supported Bangladesh, which won independence with the help of the Indian Army. Refugees had poured into Calcutta. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar organized the Concert for Bangladesh to raise funds for the refugees. Two concerts in Madison Square Garden, a three-album release, and a movie raised funds. The real value of the Concert for Bangladesh was to alert the world, especially Americans, of the existence of Bangladesh. Famine struck Bangladesh in 1973-74, and a military coup occurred in 1975. The government has alternated between a civilian democracy and military dictatorship since independence with several leaders being assassinated. Another cyclone struck in 1991 killing 140,000. Bangladesh is a poverty stricken country. The population zoomed from 67.8 million at independence in 1971 to over 160 million today, all on a small land base. Shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, and garment manufacturing have become leading industries for the country. The garment industry accounts for 80% of the nation’s export revenues, reaching $20 billion in 2012. Of course it did. The easiest, cheapest industry for a developing country to enter is textiles. Labor is cheap and sewing machines inexpensive. Retailers, such as Disney, The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, and Benetton, Macy’s, search for the lowest cost producers in today’s global economy. The finished products, such as shoes or sweatshirts, are then marked up to high prices, maximizing profit margins. Starting wages in Bangladesh can be as low as $40/month, 1/4 those of China. Bangladesh now trails only China and Italy in garment exports. Over 5,000 garment factories are in Bangladesh. Worker safety and other working conditions are not an imperative for the manufacturers except to the extent that the American and European buyers, pushed by governments, politicians, demonstrators and adverse publicity, demand and monitor safe working conditions. The third world manufacturers can be compared to the sweatshops of America’s garment industry. Reform came to America a century ago with the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire on March 25, 1911. 129 women and 17 men died when trapped on the 8th through ten floors in their sweatshop. The owners had locked the doors, preventing access to the stairwells and exits. Several victims jumped to their deaths. Most victims were between 16 and 23. The Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy led to significant labor reforms in New York and The New Deal. A new tragedy struck Bangladesh on April 24 at 9:00AM in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka. The Rana Plaza, an 8 story building with 5 garment manufacturers, collapsed with the floors pancaking on each other. 3,000 garment workers were in the building at the time. 620 bodies have been recovered so far while another 650 survivors, often in critical condition, are hospitalized. Rescue workers often had to amputate limbs on the scene to free victims. This human tragedy exceeds the Triangle Shirtwaist. Savar was a tragedy waiting to happen, just like the Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy. Hundreds of similar buildings, poorly constructed, built on the cheap unsafe buildings, exist in Bangladesh. Sohel Rana built the Rana Plaza in 2007. It was probably doomed from the start. First, he filled in a pond, which we call wetlands. Second, the design specs were for a five story building of shops and offices. He subsequently added three additional floors without making any modifications to the existing structure, increasing, of course the stress load on the existing structure. Substandard steel rods, concrete, and bricks were used in the construction. Building codes were ignored, regulations minimal, and safety inspections essentially non-existent. Four generators were added to the upper floors to provide electricity in case of a power failure. An initial investigation believes the collapse was caused by the vibrations of the generators and the thousands of sewing machines. The construction was done either without permits or improperly issued permits. Bribery is a fact of life. Rana, the five owners of the garment factories, and three engineers have been arrested. Sarah’s mayor has been suspended from office. Rana and a municipal engineer are charged with murder. Bangladesh still has capital punishment. Rana had been arrested near the Indian border as he was preparing to escape to India. He will not escape Bangladeshi justice. Cracks appeared in the Rana Plaza the day before the collapse. A civil engineer inspected the building and warned that collapse was imminent. He said the building should be closed. Rana refused, asserting the garment manufacturers could not afford to lose production. The Savar disaster may prove an economic tragedy for the country. One politician, who also owns a garment manufacturer, claims 14 million families depend on the industry. Many companies were pulling their orders from high rise garment factories, which are the norm in Bangladesh because of the shortage of land, even before April 24. Disney announced after the building collapse that it will no longer order merchandise from Bangladesh. Bangladesh is facing yet another disaster in its short existence as it attempt to emulate China and India in improving it economy.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Even the liberal media is starting to question if the newly reelected President’s second term is a failure? They're starting to ask tough questions. Gun control died in the Democratic Senate. He lost sequestration. The debt bill is coming up again. The President’s poll numbers are dropping. The public is once again tuning out his speechifying. His bluff on Syria not crossing the red line in the sand on chemical or biological weapons was called. The coverup on Benghazi is starting to blow open. The mishaps with Homeland Security in Boston are surfacing. Many of his cabinet appointments, first and second term, are mediocrities, especially when compared to the Lincoln Cabinet. His press conference this week, the conference in which the President acknowledged in his answers that he didn’t know anything about anything, was panned by the media. The wonderful columnist, Peggy Noonan, has written he’s not a lame duck yet – just lame. 100 days of a second term of 1,461 days have passed without any significant accomplishments. Therefore, it must be a failure. That’s clearly not the case. By that measure every President since FDR is a failure. JFK accomplished little in 2 ½ years, much less 100 days, but he’s considered a success. Political popularity is cyclical. Anything can happen in the remaining 1,361 days – a foreign policy crisis, a domestic emergency, in which he can appear Presidential. A major win on immigration reform could restore luster in the liberal media eyes. “Tax reform” with increased taxes would make his liberal critics happy. They will be elated if he can replace a conservative Supreme Court Justice with a liberal. They will be blown away if the Democrats retain the Senate and regain the House in the 2014 elections. He will, alas, preserve the core of ObamaCare. The economy is showing improvement. Home sales and prices are up. Foreclosures are down. Auto sales are up. Unemployment is down. That’s the measure that counts. The Republicans are still in disarray. That makes him politically strong by default. The President still controls the Bully Pulpit. President Obama failed on gun control because he tried. No attempt was made to take on the NRA after the Aurora, Colorado theatre shootings because of Election Day fears of the NRA. Sandy Hook Elementary School occurred after Election Day. The President was reelected and gained two Senators. The political time was right to fight for gun control. The political problem with the sudden shift to gun control was that it took the pressure off his agenda while he still had substantial goodwill. Another problem though is that no electoral mandate existed for his agenda. He ran an extremely negative, personal campaign in which he out-organized the Republicans. He hid, albeit not as well as in 2008, his extreme leftwing political agenda. Multiple Choice question: Assuming the President is now a lame duck, should be spend the remaining 1,361 days of his second term A) Packing his bags and returning home (His press conference suggestion); B) Playing golf 24/7 363 days a year; C) Continue his campaign tour South of the Border; D) Speechify ad nauseum; E) None of the above; F) All of the above.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Classes are coming to an end. Summer will soon shine on us, and with it the seductive sounds of ocean waves crashing on the beaches. Life is a beach: Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Seal Beach. We are attracted to the ocean to swim, surf, walk along the shoreline, chase the waves,catch a tan, show off a body, or collect rocks and shells. A few will skip pebbles across the surface of the water. Families come during the day to picnic and play along the beach. Later in the afternoon, into the evening, the young come – the teenagers and college students. In a rite of passage going back generations, they collect driftwood and start a bonfire. Maybe they roast marshmallows or perhaps hotdogs. They drink beer and wine or smoke a joint or two. Some will engage in public displays of affection, perhaps snuggling under blankets, while huddled around the fire. Oh, the memories of Judah Beach (Ocean Beach) in San Francisco in a simpler time. I don’t live by the beach anymore. I live in Orange County in Southern California ten miles from the Pacific, and not the Richmond or Sunset Districts in San Francisco. Perhaps no more beach bonfires in Southern California. Los Angeles and Orange County beach cities offer “fire rings” for the bonfires, a tradition since the late 1940”s or early 50’s. Neighbors in Newport Beach, the ones who could afford to purchase or lease homes near the beach have complained. They don’t want others, the public, the hoi polloi, to enjoy the pleasures of the public beaches. They can’t ban the people, or restrict access, but they can take some of the fun away. The Newport Beach City Council petitioned the California Coastal Commission for permission to remove the city's 60 fire rings from Balboa Pier and Corona Del Mar State Beach. Newport Beach is highly affluent as you might remember from The O.C. and Arrested Development. Corona Del Mar is legally part of Newport Beach, but likes to go by the cachet CDM to avoid confusion with its poor neighbors in Newport Beach. The city fathers of Newport Beach claim maintaining the fire rings cost them $50,000 annually, the wood smoke poses a health threat, such as to asthmatics, and they face liability issues. The staff of the California Coastal Commission recommended in March a denial of the Newport Beach application. Part of the charge of the CCC is to promote beach access and low cost recreational facilities. The fire rings offer diverse groups access to a “unique recreational area.” So popular are the fire rings that lines start forming at 6:00am to claim a spot during popular holiday weekends. The Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regulates air quality in Los Angeles and Orange County. It adopted a regulation in 2008 banning fireplaces in new residential and commercial properties. However, it exempted beach bonfires and campfires from the ban. The AQMD’s staff on March 15 proposed a year round ban on open bonfires on Los Angeles and Orange County beaches. The Coastal Commission’s Board thereupon voted to delay a decision until after the AQMD made a decision. The agency’s staff, the American Lung Association, the Woods Institute for the Environment, and the American Board of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Medicine support the recommendation. The Orange County Board of Supervisors, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach support the fire rings. Huntington Beach claims a ban would cost it over $1 million annually. much of its economy is based on beach tourism. The fire rings are popular with tourists, especially those living between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. By way of contrast with Southern California, the Bay Area AQMD bans these fires during winter. Ocean Beach is part of the federal Golden Gate National Recreational Area, which limits bonfires to a small stretch with fire rings and bans them during days of bad air quality and after 10:00pm. That’s when we were just warming up! The National Park Service also bans alcohol from the beach. The ambience is gone from Judah Beach. The AQMD, which sits inland in Diamond Bar, has tentatively scheduled June 7 to determine the burning issue.