Friday, October 27, 2017

Tax Reform: The GOP’s ObamaCare

With the Republican budget narrowly passing in the House, the groundwork is set for the GOP to proceed with tax reform legislation.  The rhetoric emanating from GOP leadership describes an idyllic world of lower taxes for all middle class taxpayers regardless of where they live.  In reality, there will be very significant winners and losers from their plan with middle to upper middle class taxpayers in predominantly high tax blue states suffering the bulk of the burden.

As the Atlantic has reported, residents of 14 states pay more in federal taxes than they receive in federal aid.  Many are states with high state and local taxes such as California, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts.  The implication of this is that residents of these 14 states effectively subsidize the operating costs of the other 36 states, reducing their need to impose higher state and local taxes on their residents.  Now Republican legislators want to exacerbate this inequity by eliminating federal tax deductibility of state and local taxes, effectively resulting in double taxation of this income. 

Republican legislators distort reality by claiming that low tax states are subsidizing the profligate nature of these largely Democrat controlled states, many of which have comparatively high median incomes and significantly higher cost of living.  In New York City, for example, the NYT reports that the average apartment rents for $3,973 per month and the average price of a home was $1.46 million.  By their calculations, someone in NYC would have to make $166,000 per year to have a similar lifestyle to someone making $70,000 per year in other parts of the country.  This person would already be in a much higher marginal income tax bracket and would likely be struggling to cover the $4000 per month in rent and higher costs of necessities. 

If the Republicans truly wanted to help the middle class, they would look more broadly at the array of sacred deductions.  Rather than deeming mortgage interest, charitable giving, and child tax credits as sacrosanct, they should just cap all deductions at $100,000 per year.  This would effectively limit deductions for the very wealthy while enabling taxpayers across the country to respond to the local circumstances that define their lives. 

Ultimately, the GOP must face voters in 2018.  They should learn from the mistakes of the Democrats in their haste to ram through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) and realize that a legislative win on purported tax reform may cost them much more than they think.  They should decide if their fragile majorities in the House and the Senate are worth the pound of flesh they seek to extract from the coastal middle class. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NFL Football in Los Angeles: Jerry Brown’s Jobs Plan

Today California Governor Jerry Brown fast-tracked AEG’s (Anschutz Entertainment Group) plan to build a 72,000-seat NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles by signing into law a bill that limits lawsuits that could delay the project.  Brown claimed that it is time “for big ideas and big projects” to help California escape its stubbornly high rate of unemployment.  Along with the stadium project, a favorite among politicians that eagerly show their support at celebratory news conferences with billionaire Anschutz’s deputies, the governor also signed a bill granting select large construction projects faster judicial reviews of environmental issues.  Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, states that he believes the laws set a “dangerous precedent when any company can come along and have enough power and influence to get a law that basically says you are treated differently than everybody else."

Governor Brown’s endorsement of these bills raises two important points.  First, the state is hopelessly burdened by excessive layers of regulatory burdens, impact studies, and public comment periods that slow development, drastically increase costs, and encourage private economic activity to locate elsewhere.  A company contemplating a new factory or facility must decide that the effort and expense of complying with these regulatory hurdles outweighs development options available overseas or in other states.  These requirements were implemented by environmental and other interest groups to discourage “dirty” industries and certain activities from being economically feasible in California, but they also increase our dependence on China and other nations that do not have our best interest at heart.

These bills rightfully seek to reduce the crushing regulatory burdens facing businesses and individuals in California, but they also highlight that only the rich and connected are able to evade the heavy hand of the State.  If these were great policies that would foster economic growth, why were they not past years ago when people were losing jobs at one of the fastest rates in our history?  Why are these narrowly applicable to only select projects deemed of sufficient scale or political importance?  Akin to the Obama administration’s taxpayer funded loans to politically connected and now bankrupt solar company Solyndra, these laws seek to favor people that have the economic resources to attain political influence.  It concentrates economic opportunity in the hands of the politicians and the wealthy, favoring their project regardless of their economic merit or social benefits for the State of California.  Quite simply, it is these types of "crony capitalism" policies, disguised under a shroud of economic stimulus or job creation, that favor the established powers and the wealthy over the small entrepreneur and the middle class that struggle to compete in a ever more challenging global economy.

September 29, 2011 Update:  Speaker of the California Assembly John Pérez, who represents downtown Los Angeles and has been a major supporter of Farmers Field, just stated in an interview with AM 710 ESPN that all potential challenges to the project will be reviewed within 175 days after the release of an environmental impact report rather than the typical 3-5 years of court challenges that would typically delay a project of this scale.  This fact was celebrated as a great achievement that removes the final hurdle to development of privately owned Farmers Field and will create 23,000 jobs in the area.  Even assuming this all is true, it ignores the fact that only those politically connected individuals and companies that give generously to the re-election campaigns of entrenched officials can benefit from such legal expediency.  The rest of us will be mired by an array of often baseless lawsuits that delay action and will be required to obtain approval of the politicians and power brokers that dictate commerce in our state.  We must regain control of economic activity and development before we are relegated to the subservient class from birth, destined to support the wealthy and powerful with no claim on the American dream.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

2011 Nike U.S. Open of Surfing: Kelly Slater Scores Another Title

Women's Champion Sally Fitzgibbons (left) and Runner Up Lakey Peterson
The 2011 Nike US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach once again featured a line up of star studded champions and some of the best rising young stars.  The Sunday finals featured a closely contested Women’s final between US Open Pro Junior Champion Lakey Peterson of Santa Barbara, CA against World Tour Title runner-up Sally Fitzgibbons.  The 20 year old Australian edged out her younger challenger in what could be a prologue of future title heats.

10x Wold Champ Kelly Slater takes the 2011 Nike US Open of Surfing
The Men’s final was a little more lopsided.  After 10x World Champion Kelly Slater established a strong lead with a monster score on his first wave, challenger Yadin Nicol seemed to look for the perfect wave while finding none in the 35-minute final.  The final tally scored Yadin on 3 waves, but in reality he only had one meaningful ride and a total two wave heat score of 2.57 while the Champion put on a nice exhibition for the crowds that packed the beach and stands.  Many of the fans were left wondering why Yadin didn’t put up more of a fight, but they gave the obvious crowd favorite Slater a huge ovation as he returned to the beach to claim the $100,000 check and US Open title trophy.
Kelly Slater Opens the Final in Impressive Fashion

2011 Nike US Open of Surfing Champion Dominates an Inside Reform
The 10x World Champion was Firing in the Final
The 2011 Nike US Open Final - An Exhibition by Slater rather than a Real Competition

 2011 Nike US Open of Surfing Mens Runner Up Yadin Nicol Clinches the Semi Final in Style

 ... but fails to deliver in the Finals

World Tour Title Runner-Up Sally Fitzgibbons Cuts through the Crowd before the Finals

2011 Nike US Open of Surfing Women's US Open Pro Junior Champion Lakey Peterson in the Finals

2011 Nike US Open of Surfing Women's Champion Sally Fitzgibbons Sticks the Landing

A Victory Lap for the 2011 Nike US Open of Surfing Women's Champion Sally Fitzgibbons

Goodyear Blimp Provides Aerial Coverage over Huntington Beach Pier for the Live Fuel TV Broadcast

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Global Standards of Excellence in Wine: Bordeaux and Barolo

The incredible showing of the 2005 Pichon-Baron and 2000 Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra Barolo at the Napa Rose Restaurant necessitated a more in depth blind tasting of the premier wines of the Bordeaux region France and the Piedmont region of Italy. After extensive planning and preparation, six exquisite bottles were selected to be blind tasted by a select panel of experienced connoisseurs. The general conclusion was that the wines expressed great typicité and sophistication. Detailed tasting notes follow.


1988 Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases (Saint Julien - Deuxièmes Crus)

The 1988 vintage in Bordeaux was very good, even if it wasn’t fully appreciated at the time.  While the 1988 vintage favored the right bank and Sauternes / Barsac white wines, there were numerous successes among the left bank producers. 

Well known as one of the “super seconds”, Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases managed the 1988 vintage well and certainly lived up to its reputation.  Rated as the favorite in the group, the Las Cases displayed dark fruits, smoke, and oak on the nose which gave way to a palate with a slight tinge of acidity and well integrated tannins.  The wine is drinking very well, but the fruit has begun to give way suggesting that it has peaked.  Moderate finish, but a great overall wine.  8+/10

1989 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron (Pauillac - Deuxièmes Crus)

The 1989 vintage was excellent and was possibly exceeded only by the legendary 1982 vintage for the entire decade.  A dry warm summer favored the left bank, particularly St. Julien and Pauillac, but Sauternes benefited from October rains that prompted the botrytis to sweep through the vineyards.

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron had a reputation in the 1970s and early 1980s for poor quality control and excessive macerations, but in 1987 it was acquired by AXA Millésimes and quickly the entire chai was rebuilt with a focus on restoring the estate to the pedigree of a Pauillac second growth.  This wine exemplified the pedigree of Pichon-Longueville Baron but was slightly more concentrated and new world in style that a traditional Pauillac wine.  Quite nice deep purple fruit, sweet tobacco leaf, and smoke on the nose.  A bold, thicker, creamy palate suggests a much younger wine (as did the color), and many in the group thought that there was a merlot characteristic to the wine.  Quite nice, and a favorite among some.  8/10

1995 Chateau Cos d'Estournel (Saint Estèphe - Deuxièmes Crus)

After opening the decade with the highly successful 1990 vintage, Bordeaux went through a challenging period that gave way to a very good 1995 vintage and perhaps an even better 1996 vintage.  The true test of the vintners’ accomplishment in 1995 was if they were patient in the face of the potential for September rains and allowed their crop to achieve phenolic and technical ripeness.

As perhaps the top estate in Saint Estèphe, Chateau Cos d'Estournel certainly delivers the goods with a wine that was extremely well regarded by the group.  A slight funk to the nose the dominated initially quickly blew off to reveal coffee, some graphite, and hints of vegetal aromas.  The graphite becomes more prevalent with time as the coffee and funk give way.  Smooth on the palate, but perhaps not as deep or complex as the other Bordeaux wines tasted.   The tannins were well integrated, as they were with all the Bordeaux wines.  Ultimately, this wine was drinking well, but the general consensus was that it could use a few more years to reach its peak potential.  8/10


1996 Parusso Bussia Vigna Rocche Barolo
Noticeable bricking on the rim is indicative of this Barolo’s age.  Tar, black licorice, and alcohol fumes dominated the nose initially with hints of cherry and cranberry emerging with time.  Acid, sour cherry, and oak are noticeable on the palate.  Medium plus to extended finish rounds out this traditional style Barolo.  Quite noticeable alcohol, despite an indication of 14% by volume, throughout is somewhat of a flaw.  7/10

2000 Massolino Vigna Rionda Barolo Riserva
The Massolino is a slightly darker wine, but still has modest bricking on the edge.  Once again, the traditional notes of tar and cherry with hints of rose dominate the nose.  Strong alcohol on the note and very stringent acid on the palate result in this wine being somewhat of a disappointment.  A short and unmemorable finish leaves this wine as the lowest rated of the group.  5/10

1999 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis Barolo Riserva
Despite an initial funk that dissipates, the nose displays the characteristic tar, cherry, and licorice notes without any astringent alcohol pungency.  The palate was more complex than the other Barolos, but perhaps a bit confused or contradictory.  Vegetal notes, earthiness, and sweet oak were predominant on the palate.  Made in the traditional style of Barolo and possessing the most alcohol of the three (14.5%), this wine was the most integrated and balanced of the three Barolos.  7+/10

Monday, March 21, 2011

Burger Craze New Zealand Style: Fergburger Queenstown

The pervasive invasion of new burger joints across America has been attributed to a craving for “comfort food” among a populace that has been bruised by one of the most significant recessions in modern history. Established brands such as In-n-Out Burger maintain a loyal following while rising stars such as Five Guys and Shake Shack have grown rapidly by focusing on quality ingredients and a simple menu. Whether it is the 100% grass fed free range beef at Burger Lounge or the premium Idaho potatoes used in Five Guys’ fries, the focus of the growing U.S. burger restaurants is differentiation through quality ingredients and focusing on what they do best – burgers and fries.

In New Zealand, where sheep outnumber people by 20 times, the focus is a little different. Ranches dominate the landscape, especially in the South Island, with everything from sheep and cows to deer grazing freely on the beautiful grassy hills accented by forests and mountains. Queenstown, New Zealand resides in the center of the southern third of the South Island on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, and is know for its winter time alpine sports and adrenaline pumping activities such as bungee jumping off bridges into river valleys.

In the heart of this picturesque tourist Mecca is a renowned burger joint that is pure New Zealand. The complete antithesis of U.S. burger joints and their limited menus, Fergbuger features the full range of local New Zealand meats, elevated in their preparation such that any farmer would be proud. While certainly offering Prime New Zealand beef “Fergburgers” in an array of preparations, they also offer “Little Lamby” ($11.50 NZD) and “Sweet Bambi” ($12 NZD) along with plenty of chicken options and even the “Chief Wiggum,” a slow roasted pork belly burger. With my predisposition towards great lamb and venison, I tried the Little Lamby and Sweet Bambi and found both to be excellent. New Zealanders have a distinct taste for sweet relishes, aioli, and sauces which Fergburger uses in the preparation of their burgers. Based on my American palate, these sauces mask some of the natural flavor of the meat and modestly detract from what is otherwise a superb burger at a “must try” restaurant in Queenstown, New Zealand.

42 Shotover Street
Queenstown, New Zealand

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Cray Pot Restaurant – Jackson Bay, New Zealand

A small fishing village on the western coast of the New Zealand South Island, Jackson Bay could easily be overlooked by travelers faced with a seemingly endless array of sights, activities, and natural attractions.  The picturesque bay on the Tasman Sea was a booming fishing port when European settlers hunted whales to supply oil and fish for food, but since is notable only as the end of the road leading south from Haast.  A fishing pier and a small fish packing plant are still operational to serve the remaining commercial fishing industry, but generally Jackson Bay is the last stop of the desolate coastal highway along the Tasman Sea.

At the foot of the fishing pier is a small trailer that houses the Cray Pot Restaurant.  From the outside, it looks less impressive than many of the “roach coach” food trucks that frequent construction sites, festivals, and fairs around the United States, but first impressions, in this case, would most definitively be deceiving.  Traditional New Zealand favorites, such as Whitebait sandwiches, complement a menu of fresh fish that is prepared either grilled or fried along with a surprisingly good salad.  The fish at The Cray Pot was the best that I had while in New Zealand and was refreshingly complimented by the organic tea and juice blend that was recommended by the chef.  The quaint ambiance and memorable turquoise waters of Jackson Bay make the 80 minute (round trip) detour well worth the visit for those traveling along New Zealand’s Tasman coastline.