Tuesday, June 28, 2011

BOS And Concessions

Is it all about safety or is it all about the money or is it all about the union and salaries and benefits?

The recent discussion focused on the emotional high note of having three operating fire stations complete with a smorgasbord of EMT’s available for the growing populous. No argument with that as all one has to do is cruise down Route 28 and see the 4X8 placard in front of the station spray painted with “Station closed.”

During the discussion the previous week you had a line of firefighters and/or their relatives and - of course - the out of town firefighters who support the grant that has been discussed over and over and over. The mind numbing figures that never seem to have any connection to one another. The projections which are just that. Insurance regulations, mileage, equipment expenses and all the assorted minutiae that makes me thankful I am not on FinCom, BOS or the Chief.

So is it really all about that main focal point of safety? That was the trump card. Like any good poker player the BOS called the bluff - deliberately or not - by attaching “concessions” to the grant. The classic Quid Pro Quo. I doubt this was planned strategy but it did take the BOS off the temporary hook and dump it firmly into the hands of the firefighters. You want this? You talked of safety? OK….give us 5% or even 10% back in salaries and benefits to show us you can do the walk after doing the talk. How about call firefighters that have been used extensively in the past and are in other communities? Is this really a union inspired roadblock?

Now....contingent on concessions from the firefighters’ union is a phrase I see in The Enterprise. Does no concessions kill this? Will the BOS then scuttle this?

Now if the firefighters do give concessions that in turn will open the door for revisiting other contracts that may be in negotiation. It may be a revisiting to all those retirees.

The BOS seemed to be almost uniform in the necessity of playing some fiscal hardball down the line with all the town unions simply because at our current way of doing business it is fiscally unsustainable.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lawyers And Courts

I am positive there are “good Lawyers” just as there is good and bad types of cancer.

The older I get the more cynical I get especially with the way various systems operate and on the very pinnacle of my list is the legal profession. Now we have all heard jokes directed at a particular ethnic group, race or profession and if we choose to chuckle we do so because of an inherent grain of truth that makes you nod your head in agreement. So when I hear a lawyer joke I end up with my neck in traction from excessive nodding.

I was recently in a court where you could observe the two classes that fundamentally made up the circus atmosphere - those about to be plundered of their last few remaining shekels and those doing the plundering. It was best described when I hear one court clerk introducing another new court clerk to a lawyer with the line “He is now one of us.” That about sums up the caste system known as courts. The legal system is operated on exactly the same premise as a casino - keep them coming back until they are broke.

Into this mix is tossed a glib and fast on their feet group of individuals who are know as lawyers. Now I have come to consider them very elegant in the art of deception, half truths, wordsmanship and what you and I would simply refer to as “creative liars.” Just look at our government that has a proliferation of lawyers representing us. Maybe instead of term limits we should bar the bar?

Howie Carr said “In the halls of justice the justice is in the halls.” So in the hallway I could easily eavesdrop on the wheeling and dealing taking place. Tit for tat…quid pro quo…anyway you turn it was an attempt at bargaining or was it? I was privy to two conversations that let me think otherwise. If a client ever heard what was going on they’d flee and take their chances being on the lamb.

Just about the worse crime imaginable is contempt of court. The judge has immense powers within his/her domain and usually enjoys that privilege thanks to a generous political contribution to a governor. I observed one judge continually complain in open court about her case load a time constraints. It became a shrill whine. All one has to do is look at our current job picture and then what a jurist rakes in to realize this is a cushy gig.

The idea in court is to intimidate. The building itself usually is a structure that attempts to incorporate some classic Greek into the architecture. The judge sits at the zenith of the court room so you must look up at the awe inspiring presence replete with black robe usually covering fashion that looked like at explosion at Sears. There are various functionaries scurrying about like worker bees bringing nourishment to the queen on the bench. They also are usually attired in tacky dress and uniforms that - to be kind - need to be taken out a bit. But it all comers down to intimidation. Our ballpark. Our rules.

What amazes me is the inability of a lawyer to say yes or no. They may demand a yes or no from a witness but when asked a direct question it is like trying to catch sand. I see our own Town Council when asked by the BOS for an opinion give statements such as “This could mean” or “Could possibly be interpreted as” or “Potentially could” and on and on it goes. The evasiveness is amazing.

Then you have the cult of linguistics that the Billy Flynn’s (look it up) thrive on. You attempt to read a legal document your eyes just glaze over and IMO that is 100% deliberate. Why confuse you with something you can actually comprehend? Just make sure that within every overly wordy document is enough trap doors to either let your client escape or to just screw over Jane and Joe citizen. I know some attempts have been made to modify some basic agreements but just go to the general laws of Massachusetts and take a look. Case closed!

What seems to keep everything rolling is the fact that many outrageous decisions are merely based on previous outrageous decisions thus continuing a pattern of dysfunction. IMO the law and common sense are polar opposites. So you simply reference other harebrained decisions with the goal of hoping your client becomes the beneficiary of another harebrained decision. Sometimes the ruse is amusing to the nth degree such as the William Fallon (look him up) that claimed the bribe paid to Sal DiMasi was a gratuity.

What really can get a “big score” is a class action suit where you can either legitimately build a serious case for grievances that have to be addressed. The big downside is creating a grievance that should not be addressed. Just a gander of afternoon TV or channels that pull in a .01 rating shows the occasional attempts to build a suit: “Have you ever had hemorrhoids?” Well…call us! You may be entitled to compensation. The term “ambulance chaser” came about for a reason.

Ah….compensation is what you get after they get their cut. What it really amounts to is a form of “vigorish” that will have the same impact on your compensation as a school of staving Piranhas will have on a water buffalo that wandered into the river. My own personal experience with this surfaces frequently with investments. In one settlement for a class action the plaintiffs (stockholders) received about 4% with the rest going you know where.

Now some of our greatest leaders have been lawyers and some of our greatest crooks have been lawyers so some type of cosmic balance seems to take place. I also notice that TV shows love to focus on the glamorous lives of three key groups in society - law enforcement, lawyers and the medical profession. As far as the law is concerned just go to any court on any day and all ideas of glamor quickly vanish. If sitting in a decrepit building attempting to formulate some type of bizarre defense for a client is glamor then I’ll stick to cleaning up the dog droppings in my back yard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ambulance Comments

Chief Benjamino made a very convincing argument for the serious under staffing of the Middleboro FD.

Chief Benjamino did not make a very convincing argument for the potential revenues received from each ambulance run.

Is it possible to get an acronym handout before these meetings?

Why is a firefighter on dispatch? Makes no sense to me. Is it a union thing? Seems like it would be more cost effective to have civilian dispatch.

I have not quite figured out all the intricacies of being a call firefighter but it seems to make some sense to significantly upgrade their wages and supplement each shift with call firefighters. Is this another union thing? Seems they could staff North and South with two fire fighters and call firefighters.

I just don’t consider Medicare plus 100% or 200% as realistic. Are all insurers really going to pay that much? We are going to trust numbers set by government regulators and the insurance industry?

Look like a union meeting of firefighters Monday night.

Some of the questions seemed staged especially the one directed by a fire captain to his chief. Real softball.

EMS Committee report will be interesting.

Is one week enough for FinCom to digest all those numbers?

Former TM Jack Healey had a vested interest with his son a firefighter. Maybe it gives him more insight or maybe a slanted view? Don’t know.

When you are on FinCom and then speak as a private citizen it reminds me of Marsha’s mad dash from behind the desk to the podium.

Very polite audience on a potential volatile subject.

Mention of the size of the town in 1985 compared with today regarding staffing but was anything mentioned about call volume changes?

Two new trucks valued at 1.4M so maybe an expenditure of 500K or so a year isn’t that bad?

What exactly is the tipping point regarding potential yearly shortfalls? What is acceptable? What can we - as taxpayers - live with?

The chief spoke of union give backs. I won’t hold my breath on that.

If you were ever going to have a coronary that was the place to have it.

I checked online and an ambulance isn’t cheap. These babies go for $100,000 - 150,000 easy. No doubt we’ll get the $150,000 one.

Will an ambulance service be a foot in the door legislation? Will we in a few years need maintenance people? Other support personnel? Add on a body here and a body there?

What exactly will we get from Brewster? Seems like they’ll be adding to the tax rolls.

Is that great Helicopter Pad at the old St. Luke’s still buried in weeds?

Is it possible to hit some local businesses on this? Any exotic taxes? Maybe the town can get a few ambulances and Charlie can claim they are recycling trucks? Take it out of the trash tax.

How about our friends at Overcharge Rate Payers G&E helping out? They have their little trust fund of about 5M. Kick in an ambulance.

Is there any way they could actually grab CPA money for this? Doesn’t look like it but there is always the weasel factor.

Chief Benjamino was getting a little tired the last hour or so. Chief did a great job lasting for what amounted to a questioning marathon. Looked like he needed a nice ice tea.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Failed President And Economy

Tick….tick…tick as the unemployment continues to tick upwards which the dismal administration continues to rely on the usual suspects: “I’m from Harvard and I’m here to help you.” The administration tried bailouts, a massive jobs program, tinkering with taxes and a multitude of other attempts to gets the pumps going to bail out a sinking ship. So far the end result is a pile of debt, high unemployment, stagnant job growth and a deer in the headlights look from the woebegone Obama.

I will still see the occasional - their numbers are shrinking - defenders of the faith tossing out the Bush card. OK….he was wretched in his years in office. He certainly contributed mightily to the mess including some questionable tax cuts from the “I’m from the Hoover Institute and I’m here to help you” crowd. Personally I like the idea of lower taxes funded by lower spending - a concept that seems to have escaped our “leaders” in D.C.

From what little I have seen of Bush II my assumption is he’s in the witness protection program but his ownership of this mess dissipates with every month’s job report. Now it is firmly in the lap of “The Magic Negro.” But with magicians it is not real but an illusion and I see the illusion presented daily by the likes of the NY Times or MSNBC or the administration when the reality is things ain’t any better. As Obama said recently “The sky is not falling.” Huh?

Now I have no real solutions and if I really felt I did I’d forge some documents and claim I’m a Harvard bred economist and I can join the parade of pointed headed liberals from the ivy covered walls who have fed the Prez all that wonderful information - say, how is that 8% unemployment working out?

What really irritates me besides NY ( AKA - Noo Yawk) Yankee fans is the way Congress and the administration have no apparent spending constraints. Debt? What debt? If I ran my personal finances like they manage a “budget” I’d have been in bankruptcy court a year or so ago. At the core of the budget is entitlements and those seem to have taken on the political line in the sand. Fiscally responsible legislators want talks on it. Note the word talks….lines of discussion. What can we do? So far the Democrats have been stationary and intransient on the issue with a few who have drifted over to “The dark side.” Ignoring a problem will not work. Obstructionism will not work. Blatant class warfare will not work. Time to actually come up with some options. Get together boys and girls or you will most certainly be gonzo.

The one thing that totally confuses me - well, actually one of many things - is the Federal Reserve and monetary policy. All I seem to garner from various financial sites is our dollar sucks. I think that is an economist term? Maybe some day one of those pointed headed liberal economist from Harvard could explain monetary policy for me - providing they are not under the microscope for not paying various taxes for having an undocumented illegal alien cleaning their house or watching their kids. Maybe I should drag out one of my dusty history books and hone up on those various gold versus silver arguments from the 19th century?

Now one thing I have seen surface in various articles is how states, cities and towns, and just about anyone else getting money from the government is having their budget crunched since stimulus money was used to fund programs, jump start programs or create a new layer of programs. They use the fancy term “revenue shortfall” which you and I call “being broke.” The money was a carrot. Some or most fell for the siren song warbled by the Feds. I do not see any Orpheus to save us from crashing upon the fiscal rocks.

Now that stimulus money should be a clear warning for our humble little community when it comes to grants. What happens when the grant disappears? As with the Feds the stimulus was just short term infusion with an accompanying long term debt but funding by the various entities’ would be simple since we’d be in full recovery. Not! So the trap has been set and the only way to solve the problem is the way government has traditionally solved said problem - revenue enhancement or to you and me more taxes and fees. In many localities a visible front line casualty is summer jobs programs otherwise know as a bribe to keep kids from just hanging around causing mischief. But it certainly does not stop there as some lower echelon heads will roll in the public sector thanks to a “shortfall,” unless, of course, you are a manager in the state of Massachusetts getting a nice 3% kiss. Nice job, Deval!

Now when the Feds cut bucks that means states cut bucks and that means cities and towns get screwed. Then just toss in the “M” word - mandates - and the problems just multiply. And that, of course, brings us right back to revenue enhancement and the fact folks have reached the melting point with confiscatory tax/fee policies.

So I might not know much on all this mess and I believe this post has clearly demonstrated that but I do know what is being done isn’t working and I also know that the government is being run contrary to my own personal process of running my own finances. And I do know that government policy directly impacts what I do and limits my own fiscal security and growth. So Congress and the President are directly screwing around with me.

I love Victorian houses. I’d have one if visions of the movie “Money Pit” didn’t dash through my skull every time I see one of the hulking behemoths enter the market. Now I’ve seen a few and the term the real estate hustlers use is “It has potential.” In real estate speak that means you better have some serious cash flow because this baby is going to need some serious work.

Now it is time to go all Chauncey Gardner on you. So right now we all live in a Victorian and it was once quite stately - a gem of vigor, strength, glory and a pleasure to view. Envy to all those sheltered in a basic cape or six room ranch but the upkeep was ignored. It is now a shell with a rotting interior that is occasionally addressed with quick fix repairs that temporarily mask the problems but do not solve them. This President and his administration have failed. Miserably failed. That was clearly demonstrated in the elections of 2010. Now have I seen any dramatic change since the infusion of Republicans? To quote Spencer Triby (Charlton Heston) “I have seen nothing to make me lift my skirt.”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mostly Politics

Representative Anthony Weiner has managed to go center stage for a few weeks over some rather explicit photos he posted. In the best tradition of one nabbed came first the denial, followed by evasiveness and finally full admission complete with an Ed Muskie press conference.

As the days have gone by this is no longer a lapse of judgment but a pattern of sexual explicit emails and postings. Weiner is now a “problem” for the Democrats but he is also a moonbat favorite and some have taken to some rather bizarre attempts at justifying his actions. Personally I’m waiting for Jessie to blame it on the Koch Brothers.

Weiner seems to want to stay on the job no matter what and no matter how much pressure is applied. This is right out of page one of the Studds/Frank playbook where no matter what the level of shame you hang on. I’m sure Weiner knows that both survived rather well despite indiscretions that in the real world could grab you some jail time.

Now the talk shows and especially the NY Post have had some merriment with the Weiner - Notice how I avoided saying they are being “hard” on Weiner-
predicament leading to what I consider my two favorite headlines - both in the Post.

“Fall on your sword” and “Erections have consequences.”

The Democrats seem to have less of a shame factor than Republicans.

Sarah Palin had a unique interpretation of American history that actually was accurate. Understanding history and having “dumb luck” are obviously present in this case and to be the latter wins out.

The Town Meeting went rather quickly and I managed to arrive around Article twelve thanks to a hot water heater deciding to leak and getting stuck in a massive Boston traffic jam. Wayne Perkins kept things moving and the BOS had some practice speed reading. A few totally unnecessary head counts that bogged things down just a bit.

I was surprised at the overwhelming acceptance of a tax break for saving military. Totally unnecessary.

Jim Thomas had a letter in the Gazette a few weeks back that demonstrated an appalling lack of understanding of the current military. He was no doubt reflecting upon the beer league soldiers in the century in which he served. . A rebuttal appeared in the Gazette this week and pointed out the numerous flaws in Jim’s reasoning. He must not have been awake when a recent group of local guardsmen were sent off to Afghanistan or articles appear in the various papers about deployments. You join the guard you will be deployed.

Thankfully a power grab by the BOS regarding CPC appointments was deep sixed.

I have often considered TM the purest form of special interest and was not disappointed when after the Rivers Edge vote at least twenty-five headed for the exits.

The Republicans have not really offered much as an alternative to the dismal performance of the Community Organizer In Chief which bodes well for this apparent failure. No real alternative has surfaced unless Mitt is considered viable or electable.

There is a scene in the movie Titanic where the ship is sinking and you see all the rats scurrying to escape. Presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich (R-Infidelity) had his entire staff quit on him. The HMS Gingrich is taking on water and about to sink.

My wife - The Lovely Cynthia - had her annual meeting of the Middleborough Historical Association and was rather upset afterwards about how she conducted the meeting since her grasp of Robert’s Rules leaves a wee bit to be desired. However she muddled along and it was not as bad as she thought it was. I sympathize with her as I find the whole process confusing and boring like the Town Meeting. If I was running the meeting then you would see a real butcher job. Some live off the organized mayhem and I don’t.

The town of Norton I believe has a nice sixteen page book describing the process of TM.

At TM one speaker took a nice cheap shot at Lakeville over the rejection of SYSCO. Was right on target.

Are they still hunting down a new school superintendent? Do you have to be a swim coach to apply?

Obamacare is really starting to look rather bleak. Forget the waivers that now number over 1,300 it will all come down to employers willing to pay fines rather than submit to the program. That burden then falls upon the tax rolls. Been a number of neutral reports showing all the flaws.

D use to stand for Democrat and now it stands for Demagoguery. Paul Ryan started the ball rolling on entitlements especially the twin towers of fiscal doom - Medicare and Medicaid. Both chew up over 25% of the budget and are based on a model that is 20...30...and even 40 years old and that represents a drastic change in demographics, funding and expansion of programs. Instead of having a debate on this issue the Democrats are hiding behind that curtain and hauling out all the traditional evils in that this is just another Republican venture to protect their rich constituent base and heavy donors. This myopic view designed to play to the choir does nothing to address the issue. They offer up no alternatives other than to portray themselves right out of the Nikko Toshogo Shrine in Japan - hear, see and speak no evil.

The Democrats have this long tradition - or at least claim to have it - of actually having some sympathy for the downtrodden - much like Progressive Republicans of the last century. IMO that image dissipated years or decades ago. The issue of entitlements is out of control. This is not Chicken Little but a fiscal tsunami that will continue to get worse.
Friday is now free ice tea day at Cumberland Farms and I must say I have taken an obscene advantage of the situation. If I could actually feel remorse I’d be concerned but I started out with getting the paper and an ice tea at 6:30AM. When I went running about 9:30 I stopped at the Cumby’s downtown for a pre run drink. Returning from the trails it was a post run drink at the Cumby’s in Bridgewater and then still another in Middleboro. I justify this by the fact that on free ice coffee days I sample none since I can’t stand ice coffee. I can rationalize my behaviors with the best of them.

On a sports posting board a New York fan was poking fun at our regional accent that is certainly of higher quality than anything in the NY area. Anyways I posted we pronounce New York as “Noo Yawk” as in “We swept Noo Yawk…twice.” Got several likes for that one.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Waiting For Town Meeting Torture

“Say On Pay” votes are part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and allow stockholders to have a non binding vote of executive compensation. When you examine some of the bloated compensation packages it makes the hand outs to public service unions look down right miserly. I have seen some bonus attachments that exceed base pay twenty fold along with a mountain of perks that range from private jet transportation to retirement packages for spouses. Excessive is the best description.

Now those proxy statements I get actually have - on occasion - some meaning and I can vote for or against executive compensation packages which will usually mean a thumbs down. I have always been an advocate for profit sharing as long as it is consistent through the company but have never been one for performance bonuses. I have personally experienced highly paid executives with steep loaded bonuses who have virtually ruined companies and two come to mind - Howard Johnson Companies and Ground Round.

I may critique the performance of those in the public sector but the private is certainly not immune from the same type of Peter Principle types who have devastated companies by decisions that left the generally worker bee population scratching their heads and muttering “What are they thinking?” Sometimes it amazes me at how on target those in the very bottom rung of daily operations had more instinctive insight than the seven figure crowd.

Rank has privilege is a phrase often tossed around since in the military that is exactly so. There are provisional restraints placed on one star and higher regarding composition of staff and usually a general is allowed one officer as an aide de camp.

One of my son’s retired from the army a few years back after twenty-five years of service with an extensive list of “hot spots” from Panama to various excursions into Iraq. His last assignment was for a two star in Iraq for 2007-08. Was quite interesting just what can be available for a general as far as private transportation to even having your own chef. This general, however, was not one prone to excesses and would be willing to make the coffee if he arrived early or to even assist in the more mundane tasks that would happen on a command post. Wanted to know and understand every detail and task. My son said his entire focus was how to put the troops at minimal risk yet successfully complete the mission. In the business world your failures are jobs lost and stock prices plummeting but in the military your mistakes arrive in the middle of the night in Dover, Delaware.

Up before Town Meeting (The purest form of special interest) is a proposal to have troops deployed in a combat zone excused from paying real estate taxes. At least that is my understanding. Now in a combat zone you pay no taxes on federal or state income including all combat pay. Zero. In addition a housing allowance is also available and that can be substantial. The son mentioned above had his PIT paid on his home while serving in Iraq. Another son currently serving gets a $500 housing allowance. Others in his unit who live closer to or in Boston receive substantially more. Some banks will also freeze all payments with no accrued interest while stationed in a combat zone. Some credit card companies will do the same or substantially reduce interest. SSCRA (Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act) covers what can be done to financially protect someone assigned to a combat zone. IMO it is a well intentioned but needless gesture.

The Democrats have now wrestled the Party of No label from the Republicans. Representative Ryan has put forth proposed legislated to target spending and within that are the three major entitlement programs - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The proposal has holes and plenty of them but that is just what it is - a proposal. So far all that is coming forward from Democrats is the old classic arguments that Republicans are tossing the poor, elderly, and disadvantaged under the bus in favor of their fat cat sponsors. Nothing has come forward to offer some alternatives. It is clear that the total focus is to demonize any and all Republicans to secure another term for WOW and to get a majority in Congress.

Mitt Romney certainly looks like a president right out of central casting. But looks and promise of hope and change can be very fleeting as in the case of the Community Organizer In Chief. His tenure to this point has been a dismal disappointment to me and a failure. The economy continues in reverse and debt continues to pile on and so far the only thing that this president and both parties seem to try and accomplish is weaseling out of accountability, pointing the finger of blame and attempting to get elected.

Can I get a TIF?

Dice-K or as I called him Dice-W appears to have finally succumbed to injury and will need significant surgery. Of course many in Red Sox Nation now using the value of hindsight have condemned this signing. Just a glance in the history files of various sports boards shows a different attitude after his 2008 season where RSN was in full brag mode over this “steal” of talent especially with the failure of Kei Igawa in NY.

IMO Dice-K was not a bad FA signing since there were no substantial markers for injury. A bad signing is one where a track record of problems exists or the performance does not meet expectations - hello, J.D. Drew! This is just a career cut short by injuries from 2009 to the present. Of course his questionable training methods, WBC appearances and hiding injuries didn’t help.

My blog is handed out in law schools with the intend of training the budding Billy Flynn’s to say things even more idiotic than I do. A special honor should go to Martin Weinberg who claimed bribes paid to Sal DiMasi (D - Cedar Junction) were “gratuities.” This guy was serious!

James McGovern came close to having won a vote for the president to give a timetable for Afghanistan withdrawal.

James Daley is a ward six school committee member in Brockton who is packing it an after four terms. His reasoning? “I don’t think any elected position should be a lifetime appointment.”

Chris Christie (R - Air wolf) decided to take a helicopter to his son’s baseball game. Amazing! Do these folks ever think? I also understand the ‘copter laid down in the parking lot of a 7/11 on the way so he could grab a Snickers bar.

A few years ago my son Jonathan presented my wife - The Lovely Cynthia - with a present that was a five star gift in her view - a clothesline. Now this was build with treated lumber and the line was looped into pre cut holes and both sides were firmly planted into the ground. My contribution was not labor but two bags of clothespins.

A hearing was recently held at the State House regarding a local option that would prevent towns and cities from unreasonable restriction of “Solar clothes-drying devices” or said clothesline. Opponents have brought up the fact that these “devices” are unsightly and will diminish property values. Typical clueless elitist.

A recent study had three scents that humans find enticing. First on the list was the odor of fresh baked bread followed by bacon and last was sheets that had