9/18/2014

Suffolk Downs 1935-2014

Suffolk Downs was the first horse track in the nation to have its public transit authority build a trolley station in record time - three days, so that the trolleys from Maverick Square (signed Gladstone at first, then Suffolk Downs) could take bettors to place their bets before the race.

In its heyday, well before the Internet, state lotteries, and casinos took away its luster, horse racing has always been called the Queen of Sports (with boxing as the King).  Suffolk Downs was no different.  It had its share of colorful personalities, bettors with a "sure thing," bettors with their own accounts, and the occasional bettor who could never seem to win because their favorite got beaten by a nose.

I went there occasionally.  I could never figure out Daily Racing Form, so most of the time I went on hunches.  I didn't spend that much - maybe on a good day I spent $20 over two or three races - but the horses running like mad to the finish line offered plenty of excitement (and copious amounts of obscenities if the horse you selected didn't win).  I didn't win that much either, but here or there a win over $50 was considered a good day.

Six years ago, voters went to the polls to ban greyhound racing.   In a vote in 2012, the residents of East Boston voted no on their side of Suffolk Downs; the Revere side voted yes.  This week, only three people were deemed necessary and sufficient to approve a casino in Everett.  The voters already said no; the three on the gambling panel assured its demise.

Suffolk Downs will end its live racing for good on September 29; it will end simulcasting on December 31.  Thousands of people - not just the jockeys, but horse groomers, bet takers, and stable owners - will be out of jobs.  When I passed Wonderland Greyhound Track this summer on the Commuter Rail train, the once-grand track was rusting and choked with weeds.  Suffolk may suffer the same fate, but only if developers are discouraged from building there.

Imagine people walking out of the new Suffolk Downs Mall, anchored by a SuperWalmart on the Revere side and a Market Basket on the East Boston side, doing a bigger and better business than Suffolk Downs the racetrack ever could.  A developer could put up true low-cost apartments that everyone can live in, not just those who can afford $3,000 a month or more.  Even putting up a new MBTA bus garage with a transit museum that would rival that of Seashore in Kennebunkport, ME would improve the area.

All of those are possibilities for the old Suffolk Downs grounds, and whoever purchases the Suffolk Downs land will convert it into something the NIMBYs despise even more than a casino, but can do nothing about because the concept is so successful.  That they cannot complain because doing so would make them sour, rent-seeking do-nothings would be delicious irony.

Suffolk Downs may have its best races and handles yet thanks to well-wishers and bettors trying to get in one last bet and one last hurrah.  That's what happened when the Hilltop Steak House closed last year; people who never stepped foot into the restaurant were there just to feel the aura of a more genteel era gone by.  

I may yet hear my last "You [expletive deleted] nag, you cost me a $900 trifecta" from a frustrated bettor before I leave.  That phrase won't be from me, though.

9/14/2014

The Scottish conundrum - with epilogue

In this article from the Post, a Scotsman outlines his reasons why Scotland should be independent from Britain.

The way I see it, Scotland's yearning for independence parallels ours: they wish to leave Britain because they want to control their own destiny.  The way it will be done is through the ballot box, not the bullet.  The US wanted to cast off the yoke of an oppressive England, who micromanaged colonists to madness, to battle, and to a new nation.

That is where the two paths diverge.  If Scotland wishes to secede because they're against Britain's conservative policies, and wish to implement center-left policies, that's fine.  They'll be independent to choose whatever policies they feel fit, so long as they don't impinge on the rights and freedoms of other Scots.  That is, if they want to have Communists as part of their Parliament, what's to stop them?  If they wish to adopt the Euro or a new currency unit, there's nothing wrong with doing so.

The only problem is when some of the Scots who see inequality in everything including their neeps, tatties, haggis and oatmeal, and will become bureaucrats obsessed with control.  Then that independence will be an oxymoron ("Independent Socialist Scotland" being the most glaring of them).  Scots who vote Yes, then discover that it was a ruse to bring in people who have no business making rules for board games, never mind a burgeoning nation.
It is the reason why some Scots wish to stay with the Crown, and would rather swallow their pride and privately be displeased with England's policies instead of having to reset to a new nation.  They see America's imperfect 238 year history away from the crown and say, "No thank you; we may dislike the queen and dislike wars with other nations, but the idea of changing everything to please a few is worse."

Epilogue: Scotland voted to stay with the United Kingdom, and its leader, Alex Salmond, quit, vowing not to give up on Scottish independence. 

For the Scots voting No, it was more a "devil you know than devil you don't" decision.  Having to start a new nation from scratch is tough; if something went wrong, or more radical factions took over, there would be many regrets in voting.  For the Scots voting Yes, it should not be seen as bad to have at least some support for future secession - but political power of that scale and the ability to upend rights and freedoms that the Crown provided seemed too risky.

9/09/2014

From living wage to the unemployment line

Thomas Sowell describes the real reason  workers demand to be paid $15 an hour: through hard-line union agitation, they hope to receive a "living wage."

What they may receive instead are a boatload of unintended consequences, and the endgame of unemployment.  For example...

1. The "Jimmy Conway" effect.  Militant unions who relentlessly agitated for this new wage are not going to quietly into the good night - they want tribute the second the first paycheck is printed out.  The phrase "[bleep] you, pay me," made famous by Robert DeNiro's character in GoodFellas, will be in two phases: first, everyone in that restaurant will be required to join their union, and that a quarter to half that living wage will be earmarked for union dues.  On a $600 per week check, $150-300 of that will go to "union representation," funneled to the union's upper echelons, who will spend it on themselves or other radical hard-left causes.  Those who do not (or refuse to pay) dues will find themselves harassed until they pony up the money or quit.  Many will have no choice but to have their money - and rights - co-opted by unions.

2. Restaurants will introduce automation to cut out any form of labor completely.  Restaurants will invest in machines that allow customers to order and pay - at a cost of $2,500.  A skeleton of servers just taking food to the customers, rather than being paid wage and tips, will save restaurants millions in labor costs.  Add to it "you make it" items and you will replace cooks.  Thus going into a restaurant will be more.of a self-serve affair and save restaurants much more than they would be forced to pay in higher wages.

3. Rather than pay the wages, restaurants will lay off those who are lowest (and cheapest) in the ladder.  For example: if 20 McDonald's employees earning $9 an hour receive a raise to $15 an hour, for a restaurant to maintain a $374,400 budget for the ones earning $15 an hour, McDonalds would be forced to lay off 8 employees earning $9 an hour.  If the other 12 employees can't pick up the slack, or are burnt out, they will also quit.  Otherwise, the store that must maintain a $624,000 budget must raise prices substantially on items in order to pay the employees; that too can result in angry customers who see a 75% increase on their food prices.  If a restaurant is bold enough, the day the $15 wage comes into effect, management will bolt shut the restaurant doors and lock out the employees.  The agitating for living wages will be for naught.

4. With large swaths of employees being dropped from employment due to the higher minimum wage, unemployment rolls will skyrocket, as will the welfare rolls, which will require more taxation.

This movement is not just a scam - it's militant unions extorting corporations through their lower-paid employees.  The lower-paid employees will be pawns and not see a red cent of their "living wage," because either the union will siphon off most of it (after some corporations "pay the vig"), while others will shut their doors rather than be extorted.  The employees will lose out - an ultimate "[Bleep] you, pay me."

9/04/2014

Money, legacy, and friends

If you're wondering why the only actions President Obama is taking against ISIS are minimal, the reasons are money, legacy, and friends.

First, the money.  If you're a President who's watching the midterm elections and you decide to take decisive action against terrorists, wealthy, antiwar donors will slam shut their checkbooks if they see presidential capital used for military action, not against the Republicans.  Loss of the Senate means loss of power, especially to their sworn enemies, and taking the fight to a topic near and dear to conservatives tips the scales in their favor.

Second, the legacy.  Do you want your political legacy to include fiddling while the world burns? Do you want to be known as an indecisive leader who let things get too bad before taking action?  At some point, the rock star/celebrity/golfing president must set aside his childish, self-indulgent things, stop catering to his friends, and do more than flap his gums, or his only legacy that will define him is that he was all talk, no action (unless it was bashing his enemies or tossing people under the bus).

Third, his friends.  By friends, I mean sycophants, czars, fellow travelers, campaign bundlers, crony capitalists, shady lobbies, entrenched political incumbents, shallow celebrities, and radical professors.  If he loses them through decisive military action, he loses them for good.  They are intolerant of breaking from collective action, which is to either wring their cowardly hands or foam at the mouth, fueled by their own ignorance.  One attack on America means a whole string of fatuous verbal effluvia that "America deserved it;" one attack to display American might generates shrill calls for the President to be dragged to the Hague for purported "war crimes."  (Attacks on their ridiculous smugness yield a quivering cowardly lip and moans that "dissent is patriotic", shorthand for "You caught me in a lie.")

Maybe I'm wrong.  Perhaps to avoid the drama and alienation, Obama is doing this surreptitiously, planning a bold attack out of prying eyes and when no one expects it, gives information about activities rival the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.  Obama wants the big win for his legacy, because in 2016, he will no longer have to be hewn to his friends or money.  But if not for his legacy, perhaps for his own ego.

8/31/2014

The FDA's tobacco quandary

The times of having a good cigar with a glass of whiskey on the rocks is a halcyon thing in some circles, but if the Food and Drug Administration has its way, all tobacco products, implements, and the like will be regulated away into obsolescence.  Tobacco will be kept away from everyone, not just children.

 The only real thing blocking them from ever outlawing it is that they do not want a repeat of what happened when they banned alcohol back in the 1920s - bootlegging was rampant and crime shot through the roof, thanks to the Mafia's rise to power.  Hence, it was easier and more profitable to tax alcohol highly rather than to ban it completely Pennsylvania discovered that making alcohol maddeningly difficult to obtain and prohibitively expensive to purchase was easier than having to pay off Mafia dons or chase bootleggers.

Hence, it is the easy tax revenue afforded by federal and state excise taxes whose effective rates are even higher than the corporate tax and federal income tax levels, and are even more regressive on low income families (think 70-75% income tax in some instances, which is double the corporate income tax and the highest federal income tax level of 39.6%), that make the FDA's progress in banning tobacco very difficult, if not impossible.

Also, the politicians who decry youth smoking rates are checked by the tobacco lobby and their generous contributions to their campaign chests.  When that ashtray is snatched out of their hands and smashed into pieces, that graft is gone for good.

If the FDA really wants to ban tobacco for good, it can do so in a progressive method that would make the transition easy.  Call it The Plan for a Tobacco Free America, if you like.

1. Politicians accepting campaign contributions from tobacco companies would be forced to endorse those checks to tobacco prevention programs, or have their state's federal aid reduced by the amount of the contribution.

2. All state and federal tobacco taxes would be directed to a tobacco cessation program - any funds going to a state's general fund coffers would see their federal aid reduced by the amount placed in general fund coffers.

3. Tobacco would first be hidden from public view in retail stores, then have plain wrappers on them prohibiting the brand name, and be removed from sale in the following steps: generics, pipe tobacco, snuff and chewing tobacco within one year, mid-grade six months later, and brand name six months after that.

4. Smokers participating in a smoking cessation program would receive a $5,000 tax credit, plus as tobacco is banned from sale, they immediately get a generous tax cut as they no longer pay the stiff federal and state excise taxes.

Smokers may feel prosecuted by being chased around by the FDA, but just as addicted to tobacco are politicians who use tobacco taxes as a cash cow.  Taking away their nicotine in the form of graft will assist the FDA's job greatly, as will encouraging smokers to quit with a huge tax incentive.

8/25/2014

Unamusement parks

The last time I went to an amusement park was in 1989.  The hot sun and long lines for rides brought me to a conclusion: if you're not patient, the wait is an eternity, and if you're a kid, a meltdown is inevitable.

I'll say that's not just amusement parks that bring out the worst in people, but any place where tourists unfamiliar with local customs are fleeced by scruple-free con artists, or foundations looking for evermore money to pay hyper-inflated salaries to the upper echelons, and make work hell for the lower echelons.

Go to a museum in Boston today, and you'll find that admission for two adults ($25 x 2 = $50), two children ($12.50 x 2 = $25), plus souvenirs ($30) and lunch at the museum cafeteria ($40) is easily $155.  Multiply that by four museums, and that's $620 just to be jostled and fleeced.  And if you stay in a hotel room, you not only pay the premium for a hotel near the attractions ($250-500 per night), there's a hotel tax (plus or minus 13.5%) sales taxes (6.25% plus another 0.75% for meals - tack on another 15% plus tip for room service).

Of course, smarter tourists prevail by researching ahead of time, staying in a hotel a couple of miles outside the city center, avoiding the tourist traps (including souvenirs), finding less expensive museums and restaurants, and sticking to a solid plan - both sightseeing and budget.

It might seem skinflint, but compared to the tantrums and conflagrative arguments that occur when people are tired and frustrated, that extra money saved can go to other things when vacation is over.

8/24/2014

Where's the (AP US History) beef?

A long time ago, I took the Advanced Placement course in Latin (after spending four years in Honors classes) and managed to get a 2 as a score.  (That was a heck of a lot better than the score of 1 I received in Computer Science.)

There is a huge to-do regarding AP US History for 2014-2015.  It seems that all of what comprises US History, from the founding of the nation to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, has been replaced by political events, sometimes not relating to history at all.

To be fair, students should have at least some knowledge of current and past events.  No one is going to ask you about the Federalist papers in life unless you're minus $1,400 in the hole and Alex Trebek is giving you an apologetic look and hoping you won't mind not being in Final Jeopardy.  George Washington does have a role, but only hard-core history buffs will dig deeper in regard to what he did.  And it's a three hour and five minute exam - with probably enough time to give MLK a passing glance.

It's telling, though that the people designing this new test have a slant towards politics and pop culture, because AP Exams are designed to be hard.  That top score of 5 for college credit can be a big $1,500 credit towards a course, but answering it with a question such as "Compare and contrast the television show MASH and its influence on the Vietnam War" sounds cheap and cheats out those who work hard.  A hard-earned A (or in this case, a hard-earned 5) carries a lot more weight than a lazy "A" that was procured through easy questions and massive scaling.

The other AP examinations have altered some, but the AP US History should at least reflect history, not the whims of educational bureaucrats easily dismissive of the past.

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