Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

Checking in...

A major part of Cooperstown, NY's summer economy are Bed and Breakfast inns operated by local residents. Running a Bed and Breakfast is probably the last cottage industry to survive from the days of pre-industrialization due to demand for shelter in an area where reputable hotels were far and few between. Bed and Breakfast's were often overlooked by government regulators, further providing impetus for their operation because of the relative ease of establishing one. Sadly, regulation has now creeped into this industry and threatens to dim the entrepreneurial spirit that drove homeowners to find a way to not only create extra income but provide a extremely valuable service to visitors.

Bed and Breakfast operators of the village of Cooperstown will now face an annual fee and inspection of their businesses. The fee schedule is as such: $100 per sleeping room plus a $50 inspection fee. The total fee paid annually to the village government for a typical Bed and Breakfast with 4 sleeping rooms would be $450. That's a very steep fee for a small business to pay. Keep in mind that Bed and Breakfast's also pay various fees to New York State. $50 every three years for a temporary residence permit is required. If the Bed and Breakfast sells food, tack on a $75 annual food service fee (and another inspection). Want to serve wine with dinner? That will be a first time $365 payment, and then $265 every year afterwards. All said and done, a 4 room Bed and Breakfast owner, depending on their fee schedule, could pay up to $840 a year to various levels of government. Thats a bit more than the "no more than one night's room rent" fee that Cooperstown mayor Carol Waller predicted.

There are several very curious ideas involved in this issue. First, Bed and Breakfast's have long been the vital organ that enables Cooperstown's tourist economy to operate; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Second, when making decisions of economic policy, the side affects or consequences of the various policy choices must always be carefully scrutinized. Regulation of Bed and Breakfast's may put a damper on the sector's development and lead to higher prices for lodging. However, the high demand for the temporary residence services that stimulated the establishment and growth of the Bed and Breakfast industry is most certainly not going to diminish. Therefore, more rooms will come from a different source, most commonly known as the competition. Large national chain hotels are becoming a fixture in the area and will only continue to grow to meet demand. At a time when local government and resident organizations are adamant to protect the village's (and surrounding loci) rural charm and fragile envrionment from growing urbanization, this act is most puzzling.

Cooperstown's government has long been against big business and has worked ostensibly hard to preserve the village as it is; why take opportunity away from long time residents and make room for strip hotels? More importantly, why not reveiw the effects of regulatory legislation more carefully and make provisions for palpable economic changes.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

 

Standing on the shoulders of giants

No, I'm not talking about Oasis' fourth album rather what I think is among the best beers brewed in North America; Steamwhistle Pilsner by the Steamwhistle Brewery in Toronto, Canada. There are finer beers in brewed in this side of the world such as Brewery Ommegang's signature Abbey Ale, but most of these beers won't be appreciated by or appeal to such a wide demographic that Steamwhistle Pilsner continues to command.

Steamwhistle's creation is an exceedingly crisp and refreshing take on the well known pilsner style of beer. It is deep yellow in color, supports a healthy and frothy head when poured correctly into the appropriate glass, (pilsner conical with a stem,) and it's aroma is delightfully fruity and fresh; this characteristic is the product of the unique hop blend that Steamwhistle's Masterbrewer formulated. (Sorry, I cannot divulge any further information about the hop mixture, it was told to me in confidence.)

The beauty of Steamwhistle's brew is that the entire continent is already familiar with its pilsner style. The prohibition laws of the 1930s killed the organic craft beer industry in North America; only the largest breweries survived the dark era. As a consequence many of the specialty beers brewed before prohibition were lost. Further damage was inflicted during WWII when the market disappeared for anything other than boring mass marketed pilsner style beers like Budweiser. The demographic of the beer drinking population changed drastically during the war because a large chunk of the continent's male population was shipped to Europe to fight. Self inflicted regulation and global war delivered a nearly fatal one-two punch against craft beer, until very recently when the microbrewery business became profitable as palates everywhere realized that the stuff they had been forced to drink was awful.

Enter microbreweries like Steamwhistle. Because the population is already conditioned to imbibe pilsner beer, when it gets a whiff of Steamwhistle Pilsner it will collectively burst into spontaneous merrymaking, particularly at the pub.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

 

Getting Close to Rock Bottom...

Pork is one of my favorite topics to write about, probably because it is so common and recognizable. It really is shocking however, how the tradition of lawmakers packing superfluous spending into bills that are guaranteed to pass is so rampant. Just this week several US Senators took advantage of an $80 Billion supplementary military spending bill and added a fair amount of ham.

The New York Times reports how Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for a "straightforward bill" that "meets the needs of our fighting forces overseas." Hoo-rah. What Senator Cochran really meant was that the State of Mississippi so desperately needed the mineral rights and authority to allow drilling permits in the Gulf Islands National Seashore that the issue couldn't wait and action was needed, in the form of pork, of course.

If it seemed to you that that last sentence had nothing to do with the topic at hand, you are correct. The Senator packed a little discretionary spending for his constituency onto a bill that was guaranteed to pass through Congress. Sadly, he wasn't alone. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California took the opportunity to tack on $34.3 million to repair forest roads and facilities in her state that were damaged by floods. At least she graciously excused herself with the statement:

"If there is a serious fire this summer, crews simply won't be able to reach vast tracts of land, and entire forests could go up in smoke."

*Sniff*

I distinctly remember horror stories of US Military Units rummaging through Kuwaiti landfills for scrap metal to weld onto their vehicles to provide a modicum of protection from IED's and snipers as they man roadblocks or convoys in Iraq. I have a feeling $34.3 million would at least purchase several armor kits that would be much more physically (let alone more psychologically) effective than the backcountry additions. I'm sure Senators Cochran and Feinstein would agree.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

 

predictions

Within one week of this post the Conservative party of Canada will force a federal election citing the sponsorship scandal as evidence of Liberal ineptitude. Within 6 weeks Stephen Harper will be the Prime Minister of a tory minority government. Both the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois will have strong showings, although the Liberals will be in second place, albeit uncomfortably.

Friday, April 08, 2005

 

It doesn't make sense...

US Senator Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon recently demanded that the US Department of Commerce release a list of American companies that export petroleum products, positing that the information was necessary as Congress debates an energy bill. In a letter to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez the Senator argued that:

"Information about the export of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels as well as other petroleum products out of the U.S. is directly relevant to the coming Congressional debate on how to address our nation's dependence on imports of oil and other petroleum products."

Though he does not call outright for restricting US oil companies from engaging in export trade of petroleum products, (totaling 268 million barrels a year,) the Senator's message definitely contains undertones of this threat. The Senator makes it clear that he is not well versed in the benefits of international trade and comparative advantage. To restrict the amount of oil products on the global market would most certainly result in an increase in the world price of those commodities, and thus only exacerbate the problem. Cutting oil product exports would also increase the US trade deficit, which makes it a curious idea for a Democrat to put forward.

In other ramblings, Senator Wyden called for the Bush Administration to "get on the phone with OPEC," and arrange for some "pricing relief," whatever that means. If the Democratic Senator was really interested in solving the problem, perhaps he would instead call for a national effort for developing an alternative fuel, and not just wave his fist in the air. In doing so, perhaps he would even give the Democrats a clear stance on this issue, or on any issue for that matter. Imagine that.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

 

uh-oh...

On April 1st the Associated Press reported that the US National Guard will relax its recruiting standards, only weeks after increasing the maximum age limit of recruits from 34 to 39. These two moves are signals that the all-volunteer US military is in serious trouble. Relaxing recruiting standards to allow older and less educated people to enlist will most certainly diminish the quality of the military that is increasingly becoming technologically advanced.

The National Guard plans to allow recruits with a least a 9 grade education to enlist on the condition that they receive their General Education Development diploma or GED within 3 years of signing up. Since the beginning of Gulf War II in March 2003 the military has faced a serious supply crunch of volunteers. Making matters worse, not only are fewer recruits coming in, but veterans are not re-enlisting, further accelerating the delcine in talent and experience. The military addressed this problem by first appealing to individual's partiotism, then through lining soldier's wallets with sweetened bonuses and healthcare coverage, and now by blatantly lowering the standards of mental and phyiscal aptitude.

This action is damning of the all-volunteer military and will only result in lowering the military's professionalism and ability. The condition of the armed forces during the post-vietnam era until the late Reagan Administration comes to mind.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

hell has frozen over...

Damn. I was hoping to buy a beer in honor of New York State's perennial lack of budget, but it appears as if the kids in Albany have cancelled the party and passed a budget for the first time in 21 years. Perhaps if the tradition of gerrymandering was put to an end (scroll down for post,) and term limits were imposed (soon to be a post,) there would be fresh faces in government once and awhile and I wouldn't have to write this post. Cheers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

The record holder for longest filibuster, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who gave a speech for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Posted by Hello
 

Save the stalls!

In an era when ideas and events can be communicated to enormous audiences in split seconds , there are still some institutions were speed is and should not be a concern. The United States Senate is one of these instutions. A filibuster is a technique used to slow or block legislation from passing through the senate. The party in opposition uses this method of obstruction to prevent bills that they think need more debate from being pushed through by the majority. Though sometimes ridiculous in length or means, this 150 year old tradition is necessary to slow hasty or reckless legislation.

A filibuster is broken by cloture, a practice introduced by an amendment passed in 1917 that originally allowed passage of the bill in question through a vote of support by two thirds of the chamber, or 67 votes. Cloture has since been changed to allow a filibuster to be ended when the legislation has the support of three fifths of the Senate, or 60 votes.

Currently, the senate is embroiled in a debate over the passage of nominees to the US Supreme Court, all of whom were rejected through the Democratic Party's use of the filibuster during President Bush's first term. As of now, the first of the judicial nominees have the support of 55 Senators; a majority but not enough to break a filibuster, which the Democrats are naturally threatening to use again. Consequently, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the senate majority leader, is threatening to force a change of senate rules and amend the amount of votes needed to implement cloture.

The spectre of a more efficient and expedient senate is frightening. The framers of the US Constitution intentionally made the government inefficient and unwieldy to prevent tyranny and autocracy. Bicameral legislatures, the system of checks and balances, and the requirement of supermajorities on issues of importance are what guarantee a stable and democratic American Government. To streamline government and eliminate the critical tradition of the minority's right to obstruction would threaten to undermine the American Revolution and it's legacy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

 

smells like ham...

Reading about the "pork" in the most recently passed federal budget is always exicting. Pork Barrel Spending is the practice of awarding discretionary funds to pay for pet projects in politican's consitituencies. These grants do a great deal to help the incumbent stay in office.

Highway spending and other transportation related funding are a perennial pork favorite. In the latest federal budget, a 6 year $284 billion highway bill was passed; that translates to a 42% increase over the last spending level. Alarmingly, some members of congress called the bill "totally inadequate."

Alaska benefited the most from the new bill with a cool $722 million allotment, or about $1500 per Alaskan resident. Totally unrelated, Don Young, the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is from Alaska. Mr. Young also named the bill after his wife, Lu. The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU, passed by a vote of 417-9, suggesting that Mr. Young is not the only member of congress that will benefit from the bill.

Congratulations Alaska on your new highway!

More Information: Citizens Against Government Waste Pig Book

Thursday, March 17, 2005

 

And Now We Realize...

Drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge is controversial. Perhaps that fact is the only part of the issue that all parties agree on. However, there is more important fact related to the issue that all parties also agree on, which is that fossil fuels are not renewable and the world's current makeup of energy sources is not sustainable. This fact is not being faced or dealt with in the manner that it should. This is the real reason oil drilling pads will soon be constructed in the ANWR.

A sustainable energy solution will eventually be found, of course. The history of mankind is a history of invention and innovation that found solutions to the problems of the day. Inventions and innovations are created by entrepreneurs who often unknowlingly are working for progress through their quest for various achievements, ranging from commerical success to historical legacy. This entrepreneurial spirit drives progress from a reactionary standpoint, or from one of vision. The invention that results is what drives society further into the fold of modernity. Thomas Edison had a vision of creating artificial light and becoming famous. In doing so, he revolutionized the way society operates. The Wright Brothers similarly left a distincy legacy through their invention of the airplane.

It is extremely important that the conditions necessary for entrepreneurialism are allowed to exist. If they are not, the rate at which problems are solved, grevious or otherwise, will slow.

Hopefully there is someone out who has a design or conception of a sustainable energy source and possesses the entrepreneurial drive to guide them. They are probably working under Edison's electric light.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

 

The Governator washes his hands...

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the "Governator," has demonstrated a political perception unlike anything we've seen since, well, Pontius Pilate. Indeed, the two men have similarities; both were foreign born governors and both have funny names. More importantly, both recognized that some issues must be settled in the public forum.

Mr. Pilate used force to extract funds from the Jewish Temple to build an aqueduct, but also allowed the Jews to settle many local issues themselves, most famously what to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

While Mr. Schwarzenegger has yet to preside during the prophetic death of a saviour figure, he has employed the Procurator of Judea's political tactic. The Governor of Cali-fornia has allowed the citizens of his mandate to settle issues of law through the ballot box. Mr. Schwarzenegger's experiment in direct-democracy by means of legislation through referenda is worth watching. While the governor has made these plebiscite overtures to his subjects, (128 pages of overtures to each household with 1 or more registered voters to be exact,) he has been less than inclusive of the Golden State's legislature, and for good reason.

One issue which the Governator plans to submit to the people for resolution is the reform of electoral district appropration. Mr. Schwarzenegger is taking a rare stand against gerrymandering, the division of voting districts as to give an unfair advantage to one party during elections. The gerrymander has been a historical facet of American political history. Hard evidence exists of this practice taking place during the birth of the American Republic. This political ritual has resulted in laughable (but very sad) voting districts that virtually guarantee the party who owns the turf in question a seat in government. Case in point: of the 153 seats up for grabs in California last November, not one changed parties.

Governor Schwarzenegger's tackling of this issue is worthy of wide applause because it is not self-serving; gerrymandering maintains his party's position of power just as much as the Democrat's. In a left-leaning state such as California, the Republicans would quite possibly face a minority role if the redistricting practice is curbed.

Let's just hope that Californian direct democracy works smoother than the Judean model.



 

Gerrymandering, 1812 style.


Posted by Hello
 

Responsibility anyone?

Paul Krugman's latest column in the New York Times is, as usual, about social security reform in the United States. It is an important issue, and I applaud Mr. Krugman for stimluating debate; however, some of his arguments are feeble.

The thesis for today's column argues that the social security debate isn't about how to fix the system, but about "what kind of society America should be." I couldn't agree more. Amercian society should be a responsible one. It should be a society that makes sound choices and follows through with them. Privatizing social security would introduce more personal responsibilty to the culture that is in the most dire need of it.

In the long run, the benchmark indices of captial markets increase in value, plain and simple. The government should restrict possible investment choices only to large and stable mutual funds such as the Vanguard S&P 500 fund. (Since the fund's inception in 1976, it's average annual return has been 12.29% - thats a wee bit more than the yield of US Treasury Bonds.) This limitation would reduce the risk of the investment to almost nothing. Look at it this way: if the major capital markets of the world crash to ruin, the US government will be more than hard pressed to print social security checks.

Mr. Krugman also targets the recently passed bill to limit bankruptcy protection. While the bill is most certainly not perfect, (come on, let's have an exemption for medical emergencies,) the same idea persists. Stop acquiring new cars, your current cellphone works just fine, and do you really REALLY need that Louis Vuitton handbag?

A more responsible society would care more about the environment, education, politics, basically everything. Isn't that a worthy goal?

Monday, March 14, 2005

 

Can't get it out of my head

I recently read a commentary in the Times by Andrew Sullivan on the sad state of western society caused by the ipod. He argues that each new ipod purchased means another soul is disconnected from the day to day goings on of modern urban life.

I confess I am an ipod user. (Well, actually a Creative Nomad Jukebox user, for those who are keeping track.) Having a seemingly infinite amount of music at my fingertips is quite enjoyable. Envisioning brown prairies while listening to Johnny Cash makes walks in the bitter cold much easier. Bob Dylan's lyrics seem to accelerate the subway through the darkness. Sullivan is right, when I listen to my endless stream of digital music the world does shut off. I can't hear the drone of traffic or even the pleas of the homeless. I still see them, but its much easier to accelerate your step when you have a beat to keep time. (Admit it, we do this as an urban society.)

Sullivan neglects the fact that disconnection has always been a part of urban society. I remember as a child my father would instruct me not to make eye contact with strangers and keep out of other's way. These rules still hold true. Go out onto a busy street and try to initiate some sort of contact with a pedestrian. I'm sure you'll find it difficult. If you do make contact, there is a high probability that you'll receive a scowl, not a smile. Step into the subway, you won't find a discussion, just the sound of steel on the tracks. Even in a taxicab, where two or more people are intimately confined, conversation is rare.

When I step out tonight, I'll be sure that R.L. Burnside drowns out the street and my personal space is not only physical, but aural.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

 

First Post

Here we go....

Blogarama - The Blog Directory

Blog Directory & Search engine

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Technorati search
Google