Florida Pilot

A compendium of random thoughts from a former Washington Beltway insider who is now having a lot more fun flying small airplanes in Central Florida.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays and the street con

There is a great web site that follows the shenanigans of the superwealthy as they try to get public subsidies for their ever more grandious stadium projects www.fieldofschemes.com -- check it out.

What the Rays are likely looking for is a new venue to have better and more luxurious suite accomodations to market to businesses. They also know that the novelty of a new ball park will permit them to increase ticket prices -- 30% is typical. The luxury suites to be constructed at taxpayer expense, although never discussed in any of the promotional material produced by the Rays, are surely at the heart of their desires. I'm also sure they will be air-conditioned unlike the "regular" seats out under the sail.

I've seen where a lot of people are unhappy that oil companies are making big profits but, by any measure the Rays are much more profitable than any oil company. Would you be willing to pay an extra $4 per gallon of gas to increase Exxon's profits? Probably not but the Rays are already getting a public subsidy that is about the equivalent of their entire gate receipts. And they want more, much more!

If the Rays could put St. Petersburg in a new stadium with no new taxes, would that be okay? Sure, sounds like a good deal. But then the facts start to come out. This is the same marketing strategy used by the guys selling cars in the lots off the Vegas strip. They get you to commit to the car before you even know what it is going to cost you and then they know they have you hooked. The Rays hired the guy who managed to get over $1 billion in public subsidies for the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Now put that kind of hired talent up against the St. Petersburg mayor and city council -- no contest and we know who is going to leave the room with their wallets empty. And guess what -- they have Mayor Rick Baker on record as saying the Rays need a new stadium. And that means that, if Baker stays in office, the taxpayers are going to be stuck paying for a new stadium -- cost and terms to be decided later. It is really no different than a street con but the stakes are a lot higher.

But St. Petersburg is a "major league city", right? But what that seems to mean is pay the man what he asks for and don't put up a fuss. If you have to ask what it really is going to cost you, you're just not "major league" enough or maybe your voters are just too old!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Secret stadium negotiations fail, taxpayers saved so far

Over a year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays started their efforts to get a new taxpayer-subsidized stadium so that they could increase the profits the team earns for its out-of-state owners. For almost nine months, the Rays conducted secret negotiations with St. Petersburg city leaders. Only after the team's plans were leaked by the media, were the public let on on what was envisioned as the largest subsidy by far to a private business in St. Petersburg city and Pinellas county history.

As soon as the plans became public, they started to fall apart. When scruitinized. the team's rosy financial and other projections, apparently taken at face value by St. Petersburg officials, were shown to be unrealistic and/or imcomplete. For example, the team originally indicated that the city could raise enough funds from selling the site the current taxpayer-owned stadium occupies to pay for the new stadium. After serveral months, the city discovered that the sale of the entire 86 acre parcel that existing stadium and related infrastructur occupies would not even pay what is still owed on the stadium to say nothing of demolition costs.

The Rays offered optimistic projections about parking but they never bothered checking with many of the parking lot owners to see if their space would be available for stadium parking. Also, the Rays out-of-town owners suggested that some sort of a sail would substitute for air conditioning and protection from Florida's summer storms. Had this turned out not to be the case, it would probably have cost the taxpayers another few hundred million to fix the problem.

While the Rays and their supporters kept talking about how important it was for St. Petersburg to remain a "major league" city, evidently by doing eveything the team owners demanded on an immediate basis, the Rays treated City leadership and taxpayers like country bumpkins. Anyone with a $5 calculation, pencil,and the back of an envelope could start to demolish the figures provided by the Rays.

As criticism began to mount, some St. Petersburg elected officials began to get nervous about backing the Rays. Even council members started asking questions and the mayor refused to offer his complete support although the wheels to accomplish what the Rays had requested remained in motion. In one serious setback for the Rays, the city failed to select the developer for the old stadium that they Rays had preferred.

Becuase the Rays had decided they wanted the new taxpayer funded stadium on the waterfront, it had to be put to the voters. With a strong likelihood of a rejection by the voters, the Rays apparently withdrew the question about use of the waterfront land from the upcoming election. Although one would think it was the City's responsibility to decide what is going to be on the ballot, apparently that authority has been delegated to the Rays -- additional evidence of just how much the City officials are "in the tank".

Although the Rays have abandoned their goal on an immediate basis, this is certainly not a time for complacency by concerned St. Petersburg taxpayers. For one thing, the removal from the ballot of the allowing use of city waterfront land to benefit a private organization will deny the voters an opportunity to be heard on this importatnt question. Mayor Baker wants the status of Al Lang field, the parcel in question, to remain the same. Given what has happened so far, it is hard to interpret this as anything other as an attempt to allow the Rays to buy time to try to change public opinion.

What is most outrageous is the impression that the City of St. Petersburg has, in essense, contracted out its entire city planning function to a baseball team.

Second amendment comes to life

The Court's correct reading of the Second Amendment represents a trememdous boost to individual freedom. Obviously, it is disappointing that four of the justices failed to acknowledge the obvious but the struggle for freedom and liberty is never easy and it is never over. The usual lobbys and the politicians they support will loudly complain that this ruling will lead to more violence but time will show them wrong as it has every time restrictions against people being able to defend themselves have been removed.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Clinton technique -- the distraction

With the nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama heating up, the Clintons are starting to resort to some of the classic techniques they have used in the past. I'm sure they had not planned on using these until the general election campaign.

Yesterday, a commentator at MSNBC noted that Chelsea Clinton has now been taksed for a more active role in the campaign. He described this as "pimping-out" Chelsea; probably not the most elegant language but certainly the gist of the facts. While the most important trend in the nomination is the erosion of Clinton's support, Hillary got the classic distraction going by whining about the language used about Chelsea. And thus, the media was distracted from the real story.

A Clinton distraction like this, one involving an attack on the media, serves dual purposes. Not only is the public distracted from what is really going on but members of the media are discouraged from sharp coverage of Clinton in the future. In fact, Hillary's complaints about unfair media coverage disguise the reality that she has been treated very gingerly -- not only in comparison to republicans who are attacked on a regular basis, but also in comparison to other democrats. Who else, for example, could claim eight years of experience as "co-president" while keeping all of the documents secret that might shed light on this claim.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Clinton every day for the next 4 or 8 years?

Who can consciously consider the idea of having another four or eight years of Clinton every day. The one thing you can say for sure about Hillary is that she has no greater sense of integrity and honesty than her husband. Today we find out, for example, that Hillary had to loan her campaign $5 million last month. Up until this past Tuesday, Hillary promoted herself as the "inevitable" candidate. But Obama has been moving up in the polls and seems to have some momentum as the campaigning continues. Had it been known prior to super Tuesday that Hillary was having to did into her pin money to fund her campaign, it would surely have helped Obama. Since that information would have been damaging to Clinton, it was kept under wraps.

But now, Hillary wants us to view her as the underdog so we are told she had to loan her campaign money. We were even told that her campaign staff has had to go without being paid -- well, maybe that part wasn't actually true but, with a Clinton as the source, actual facts mean nothing.

Any outcome would be better than Hillary and Bill Clinton back in the White House.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Edwards drops out

John Edwards has ended his five year campaign for president. Only Hillary Clinton has been running for longer.

Edwards based his campaign on a class-warfare approach; the haves versus the have nots. Class-warfare techniques have not been particularly successful in the United States since most people seem to understand that a free society provides the opportunity (but not the guarantee) for have-notes to become more like the haves.

Of course, Edwards was a stange poster-boy for the have-nots. His personal lifestyle was one of narcissism and excess consumption. For example, he was evidently unhappy with his 11,000 square foot or so house and had it replaced with one of 26,000 square feet. He had some huge piece of property yet still complained that he had to share the road with other residents. The best example of narcissism and vanity was his $400 haircuts -- charged to his campaign.

Edwards was also well known for changing his mind on positions he had taken in the past. Since Edwards' participation in the public sector was limited to a single term in the Senate, his flip-flopping as a percentage of positions he had previously taken was probably more than any other candidate.

Edwards will be remembered for his $400 haircut, his man-love with John Kerry during the 2004 presidential and his exploitation of his wife's cancer in an attempt to butress his campaign. Good riddance.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Insurance greed

One of the most outrageous examples of corporate greed is property insurance in Florida. Although there were substantial claims from storms a few years ago, the insurance companies seem to want to make sure that their premium income every year will provide for substantial profit as well as cover claims from the most extreme storm scenario imaginable and, if those storms don't occur, well that is just that much more profit.

One of the largest and most greedy insurance companies operating in Florida is Allstate. When the insurance industry (including Allstate) claimed that skyrocketing property insurance rates were due to increases in reinsurance costs, the state acted to provide low-cost reinsurance and dircted the companies to pass along the savings to policyholders. Instead of doing so, Allstate put in for a 42% rate increase -- this after previous years of huge increases. The state responded by denying the increase and by requesting detailed documentation of Allstate's justification.

Now, several months later, Allstate has still not provided the information so the state of Florida has now restricted Allstate from writing any more highly profitable auto polcies in the state. This is great news! It turns out that the state could have fined Allstate $10,000 per day for refusing to provide the data but Allstate is already being subjected to $25,000 per day penalties in another state for also failing to provide required information. Allstate is crying the blues that the ban will hurt its agents which is true but those agents need to blame the company and greedy management and not the state which is trying to reduce outrageous insurance company premiums and profits. Perhaps the agents can put some pressure on Allstate management to correct its practices -- so far, nothing else has slowed down the greed.

taking privacy a step too far

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is apparently supporting Idaho Senator Larry Craig's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea relative to the infamous sting in which he was alleged to have solicited homosexual sex in an airport bathroom.

The ACLU is claiming that a previous Minnesota court decision provides for the expectation of privacy of individuals taking part in sexual encounters in public bathroom stalls. By extension, I guess the new theory is that the solicitation for sex cannot be a crime since the ensuing act would presumably be protected by some privacy right.

This seems like a strange and bizarre position to take. While it is reasonable to have an expectation of privacy in a public bathroom in using those facilities for their intended purpose, to extend that privacy right like this makes no sense at all. Does a public restroom stall now become some extension of one's residence?

A public restroom stall is not sealed off from the rest of the world. It would be noticeable to a casual observer if there are two individuals in a stall and who knows how much noise and commotion would ensure from the kind of activities advocated by the ACLU. If the ACLU's position is to be upheld, people would be reluctant to use the restrooms for their intended purposes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The "real" Clintons

As it becomes apparent that Barack Obama is a real threat to Hillary Clinton's march to coronation, the fur is starting to fly. Most interesting is the claim that the Clintons are now starting to try to play the race card against Obama. Some Clintonistas in the media claim that is not possible, isn't Bill Clinton the self-described "first black president". Well, the most important things to the Clintons are power and money. The Clintons love blacks -- blacks that are subservient to the Clintons -- but blacks like Obama who threaten the goals of the Clintons are fair game for any of the dirty tactics they are famous for.

Arkansas during the Clinton years was a poor state but the Clintons looted it anyhow and Bill Clinton acted like a Middle Ages monarch towards women who attracted his interest.

But Bill Clinton was also about wanting love, whether from the intern-de-jour, the media, or the public at large. That desire moderated his political views to a substantial extent. With Hillary, there is no respect or desire from affection from anyone, especially the public at large. Hillary is all about the raw desire for power. Yes, she can occasionally act like she is a real person but only a fool would believe it.

Hillary Clinton is the most devisive political figure in a long, long time. If she becomes president, it will be bad times for the county. Even slimy, greedy John Edwards would be better than Hillary.