Fun in the Sun

As the cold November winds prepare to blast us into winter, wouldn’t you like to fly away to a land of perpetual sunshine? Someplace like Maui?

Well,  two dozen California legislators have packed their swim trunks and sunscreen and have flown to Maui.  These lucky folks are being treated to a five-day conference at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea,  where the rooms cost $350 per night. But they won’t see a bill. Their expenses ($2500 per lawmaker) are being paid by  a non-profit called the Independent Voter Project.  Who are they? They include:

Occidental Petroleum and the Western States Petroleum Association

Eli Lilly

the Altria tobacco firm

the California Cable and Telecommunications Association

the State prison guards union 

the California Distributors’ Association tobacco and other products).

Just to make sure our legislators get enough rest, a mini-conference from Nov 19-23 will be held just down the road at the Grand Wailea. The sponsor is the Pacific Policy Research Foundation whose supports include Eli Lilly (again), PG&E, and Amgen.

Who attends these gatherings? That’s a semi-secret but legislators from both parties routinely show up as well as power brokers like former assembly speaker John Perez. The only people who don’t get a seat are you and me. Patrick McGreevy lays it out in the LA Times.  

Every year they have these elitist parties with the public left out and every year people bitch about it, but here we are again. And Jerry Brown,  who doesn’t make many mistakes, vetoed a bill  that would have required nonprofits that pay for legislators’ travel to meetings like this, to disclose their donors.

But what good does disclosure do? These people have no shame.  Next year they’ll do it again. Even with a series of recent scandals, they’ll do it again unless someone stops them. Write to Mike McGuire, write to Jim Wood, join California Common Cause.

Maybe next year we should crash the party? Or at least get them to hold it in-state?  Box lunches at the Wharfinger should be good enough for those who are really doing the people’s business. 

END

 

 

 

Planes and Trains- Transportation Updates

AIR- Redding gets a grant.  Redding has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the Dept of Transportation in the form of a revenue guarantee to help SkyWest defray the cost of replacing their current turboprop (Embraer Brasilia) service with Canadair Regional Jets, according to the Redding Searchlight Record. The grant requires a $50K match and does NOT guarantee that jets will return to Redding but is a necessary first step in that direction. SkyWest recently pulled out of Modesto and is discontinuing service to Chico in December.

RAIL-HSR is on the way.   The California High-Speed Rail Authority took the first step toward actually buying trains, opening bids for a billion-dollar contract to build trains and maintenance facilities. Siemens, which has a location in Sacramento, will be among the bidders, and interest from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers is expected to be strong. The specs are that the trains must be able to deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours. If Siemens prevails, the economic benefits to the Sacramento area would be substantial.

MORE RAIL– The Economist reminds us that HSR is nothing new, in fact it’s been around for 50 years, just kinda slow in coming to California. Fifty years ago this week the Osaka-Tokyo line commenced operations and has “since whisked 5.6 billion passengers across the country without a single serious accident.  Punctuality?  The average delay is  less than a minute.” Japan’s HSR, at 200 mph,  is actually pokey compared with China’s Shanghai maglev  (430 kph) or the maglev being developed to update the Tokyo-Osaka run to a speedy 500 kph, about an hour’s time. This will cost $47B, but the Japanese have a government that is willing to invest in infrastructure. 

STILL MORE RAIL– Closer to home, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate court found that the North Coast Railroad Authority and its partner the Northwestern Pacific Railroad can expand freight service without further environmental review.  Specifically, the panel found that freight rail traffic is interstate commence and not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.  The envronmental groups that brought the suit, Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, had not announced at press time whether they would appeal. The NCRA’s next step is to raise $5M to rehabilitate the tracks between Windsor and Cloverdale and to recruit customers for the freight service between Napa and Windsor which currently runs twice a week. 

END

Vital Records

Social Security wants my sister’s birth certificate. Her copy is in a storage locker in Sonora, she thinks. I head down to the Courthouse. It’s drizzling.

For the first time ever, I try parking in the gravel lot at the North end of the building. Big mistake. I drive a lowslung car. The lot consists of huge cavities in the gravel. My car rocks back and forth as I pull into a space, listening to the oil pan scraping the gravel.   I wouldn’t call it “accessible” but at least it’s on the same block. After a long, long walk back to the front entrance, I go through the security line.  A table near the elevator is marked “Courthouse Information.”  A young man fields inquiries while not missing a beat of his cellphone conversation. I need to go to the 5th Floor, which means going to the 4th, then switching elevators to ride to the 5th.

I enter the offices of the Clerk/Recorder. The view from here is normally stunning, but today it’s gray and dismal. There are four or five workers inside and one woman who appears to be doing research of some kind. The workers approach helpfully. I only need one.

I have already downloaded and filled out the request form. A pleasant man says he’ll be back in five minutes. He is.  I pay the $25 for a super-official document because I really don’t know what kind they want.

In the elevator I look at the certificate. I remember her doctor, a nice man who died in a plane crash, leaving a young family. Remembering him makes me sad. 

The drizzle continues.

Dinner with Dogs??

Do you love dogs?  Sure.

Do you love OPD (Other Peoples’ Dogs)?  Uh, not so much.  

Well, as of January 1, California restaurants with patio spaces will be allowed to serve dogs right along with their owners, assuming the owners are human. This “change” will probably affect Humboldt less than more urban regions  because plenty of local eateries are already allowing dogs. The rules are that the patios must have separate entrances so that the doggies don’t enter the restaurant itself and they continue to be banned from food preparation areas. The new rule does NOT mandate that dogs must be allowed on patios; that’s up to the proprietors.  Nor does it change any of the rules on bona fide service animals. 

I’m a dog owner who does not envision taking my dog to a restaurant in this lifetime. For one thing, she’d eat everything in sight.  For another, she’d never be able to share space with one of those cute fuzzy little dogs that look and sound exactly like her squeak-toys. The other question is, do I want to share a table with someone else’s dog?  When MY dog drools  on the table, it’s cute. When YOUR dog does it, it’s disgusting.

I’m all in favor of consumer choice, so when I pass by a patio cafe where chows are chowing down in favor of a human-only environment, that’s a valid choice. I wonder how the majority of Humboldt diners will react to their new dining companions.

News From All Over

Here are some factoids with which to tickle your brain.

TOURISM- As the HSU survey in our last post pointed out, tourism stats are down in Humboldt County.  However, our friends in Redding are feeling the same pain, according to the Searchlight -Record, no link available. Isn’t it puzzling or are tourists staying away because of the drought and fires? 

CHINA- University of California officials have made no less than 20- that’s TWENTY- trips to China so far this year to woo Chinese students with their lucrative out-of-state tuition payments. Oh, yeah, they’re smart too. And haven’t fried their brains on drugs.

APPLE- now has 2500 workers in their Elk Grove location which started as a distribution center but is now hiring folks who wouldn’t know what a forklift looks like. 89 current vacancies,  including one for “Mandarin Team Manager”.  

100 OBJECTS- The State of South Carolina, which has imho the slickest tourism of any state,  is sponsoring a promotion of “100 Objects” in Orangeburg County ranging from battlegrounds, old schools, gravestones, gardens etc.  It’s sort of like “101 Things To Do on the North Coast” combined with a historical scavenger hunt. Any community could adopt this promotion except we’d have to lose the bland word “objects”. “Prizes?” “Treasures?” OK, I can see why they settled for “objects”. Still a good gimmick for a promotion. 

SHERLOCK HOLMES- the stories by A Conan Doyle have fallen into public domain. Those of you who always thought you had a future writing screenplays, have at it.  

OBAMA- one of his biggest financial supporters is the CEO of COSTCO. 

OLIVES- due to the drought,  this year’s olive crop is going to be down 45% from last year. Martini drinkers might want to stock up bigtime. 

OYSTERS- Rumor has it that a major Marin County oyster producer will start operations in Humboldt Bay. 

That’s all, folks, for this week.  Stay safe and far away from the fires. 

   

Alibaba’s Mega IPO; The Analects of Jack

PART ONE: Imagine there were a company that offered on-line shopping, business-to-business sales, online payments, wholesale trade and cloud computing- in other words a combination of eBay and Amazon that is actually bigger than eBay and Amazon combined.  Welcome to Alibaba.

Started by a schoolteacher named Jack Ma on his kitchen table in Hangzhou in 1999,  the company, now based in Hong Kong,  is about to launch what may be the biggest initial public offering in history, one which could easily surpass Facebook’s fumbled IPO of $16B in 2012. Why will be the biggest  beneficiary? Yahoo, which owns 24% of Alibaba and will probably use the infusion of cash from the IPO to continue its buying spree of smaller tech companies. To give you an idea of the scale,  Alibaba processes  $248B in retail sales yearly.  Here’s a description from the Mercury News:

‘”Nearly 8% of all Chinese online shopping goes through Alibaba sites; on Singles Day last year, a popular holiday in China for online shopping, the site processed $5.8B in in purchases. By comparison, eBay’s total sales on its online marketplace for all of 2013 were $6.8B.”

Alibaba is also moving into mobile commerce in a big way, investing in American companies like  Mountain View -based Tango Me and in Lyft, the San Francisco -based ride sharing  app,  while attempting to consolidate its position amidst its nearest rivals, Baidu and TenCant, which is already rolling out its own IPO. (Google and eBay have departed the China market).  Alibaba’s  IPO was scheduled for August 8 (eighth day, eighth month- the Chinese like “8”s) but may be delayed due to last-minute glitches involving SEC approval of some of their subs which are based in the Cayman Islands.  Ma, who is worth over $8B, has stepped down as CEO but remains as Chair of the 21.000 employee firm and is devoting his time to a charitable trust. 

It’s a global economy for sure, and becoming more so every day.  Wonder how long it will be before we start seeing Singles’ Day promotions? That ‘s too good an idea to skip.

PART TWO: The Analects of Jack. The early history of Alibaba is set forth in a documentary and a book (Alibaba, by Liu and Avery, 2009) which describes how at one time in the early days, Ma was  literally kidnapped and held hostage in a Malibu mansion at gunpoint until he talked his captor into going into business with him).  Ma only got into college on his third entrance exam but his English major has definitely been put to good use in the following phrases which were compiled by American City Business Journals from various interviews and an appearance on Charley Rose that I’m sorry I missed. Here’s a sampling.

Why he likes small businesses and tries to help them through Alibaba: “I’ve seen people make a fortune by catching shrimps, but I’ve never seen anyone make a fortune by catching sharks and whales. It’s like Forrest Gump.”

On putting customers first:  “It’s customers No, 1, employees, two, and shareholders, three.  It’s the customer who pay us the money, it’s the employees who drive the vision,  and it’s the shareholders who when the financial crisis comes, these people ran away. My customers and my people stayed.”

On technology:  “I know nothing about technology.  I use the computer to browse the Internet and receive email. That’s it.”

On developing a business:  “If you want to be a great company, think about what social problem you could solve.”

 On money and Alibaba’s large cash reserves:  “When you try to solve problems with money, that is when your real problems start. A company’s assets are like a country’s armed forces.You cannot use it lightly, but if you ever need to mobilize it, you must win.”

END

 

 

 

Aviation Update July 2014

Don’t read this if you’re looking for good news for airline passengers. A friend of the blog compiled the following links which show that no matter how bad it gets, there’s always room for worse.

1.  You’ve noticed the carriers imposing more and more fees along with the regular airline fares? Try 1200% in the past seven years, like from $2.4 B in fees in 2007 to $31.5 B in 2013.  More carriers are counted in the later figures but the fees are all coming from the same source: you. 60% of these fees are from the sale of frequent flyer points, 25% for baggage fees, the rest from such services as early boarding and extra-leg-room seating fees. Here, courtesy of Yahoo Finance is a full accounting.

2. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that TSA is also raising its fees. The current fee is $2.50 for non stop and $5 for a connecting flight. The new rate is $5.60 per flight with any connecting longer than four hours counting as a separate flight. That may not sound like much but it adds up, especially when you miss your connection due to delays  leaving  ACV and end up with a ten-hour layover at O’Hare. Here is an account from USA Today.

3. The impact of the war in Ukraine and its spinoffs will be enormous and it is probably too early to assess. The route changes resulting from the war are coming at a time when fuel prices are at an all-time high. When the carriers are squeezed, guess who they’ll pass the increase onto?  The Hindu Business Line newsletter carried an analysis but the link is no longer available. Time moves quickly in the Middle East. 

LOCAL UPDATE: The  Airport Advisory committee did not have its meeting as scheduled yesterday for lack of a quorum but Emily Jacobs reported that there was “some” interest in serving ACV demonstrated by other carriers at the confab in Edmonton. Someone reported that Santa Rosa is improving its runways in anticipation of DIRECT FLIGHTS TO HAWAII.  Wouldn’t  that be great? Yes, it would.  

Separation Anxiety- California and Scotland?

A Silicon Valley one-percenter is proposing to split the state six ways. Guess which part will end up with all the money?  It ain’t us.

Meanwhile, on September 18th, a referendum in Scotland will determine whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or goes independent. The similarities between the Scottish situation and the putative State of Jefferson are interesting to compare.

MONEY: Scotland is a rich country due to the North Sea oil reserves. They can leave the Brits  behind and still survive economically.  (Scotland can already afford to educate its university students for FREE.) A State of Jefferson on the other hand will end up as the Appalachia of the  West. Other than tourism and weed, which will be selling for pennies after legalization, what do we have? Oysters. Good oysters, but still…Every candidate for office in Humboldt County in the last twenty years has run on a platform of bringing jobs to the county. Where are those jobs? I must have missed something.

HISTORY: The Scots were an independent people until 300 years ago with their own culture and language. ( To this day the average American has about as much chance of understanding a Scot speaking what is now is considered the Scottish dialect as he would have understanding someone from Newfoundland.) 300 years ago there were no “white” people in “Jefferson”. The State of Jefferson would have the highest proportion of Native Americans of any area in the State. Separating from California would not enhance their economic situation one bit. If it would, tell me how.  Yes, they would carry more clout locally because everyone else will be broker. But will their situation really improve? Will anyones? 

POLITICS: The Scots have long been more “socialist” than the rest of the UK. Within recent memory they were still sending a Communist or two to Parliament every year, usually from Glasgow. The factories and tenements of Glasgow were the inspirations for Karl Marx’s Capital. Glasgow is the only place where I ever had a cabbie return a tip because good Marxists don’t believe in tipping. The Scot’s desire to be free of “imperialist state” of the UK has deep roots and may well carry the day. Politics in “Jefferson” is more chaotic. With a 20% participation in the recent elections, it seems clear that most Jeffersonians (is that what they call themselves?) are not participating in politics because they’re  hopeless or too stoned. This paves the way for the Tea Party or other fringe groups to fill the vacuum. Not a pretty sight.  

Anyway, September 18th should be interesting. If the Scots opt for independence will they be part of NATO?  Will they adopt the Euro? What will happen to the North Sea oil, in which the Norwegians also have an interest? It’s been a long time since our states changed boundaries. In November, will the divide-and conquer strategy of the SV plutocrats win out over the welfare of the rest of us? Stay tuned.  And for God’s sake register to vote. 

Humboldt Economic Index for June 2014

The hardworking crew at HSU has published its Index , which shows a sharp drop in housing sales, down 12.4% since last month. Most indicators were down or flat although Retail held steady.  Unemployment rates: National 6.3 (May figures), California 7.6, Humboldt unchanged at 7.1. Many thanks to Dr. Eschker and his researchers.  

Graduation Day- “Reach for the Stars”

Saturday the 14th was my cousin’s kid’s graduation day from UC Santa Barbara. I wasn’t expecting much aside from heat and chaos so I was pleasantly surprised that the graduation speaker actually had something to say that was memorable.

His name is Jose Hernandez and he was born in French Camp. If you’ve ever known anyone from French Camp, you know it is a migrant labor settlement. He spoke of following his parents as they moved from job to job picking  strawberries, lettuce, whatever. Finally a teacher took an interest in the family and convinced the parents to settle near Stockton so that the kids could get a real education.

One night in 1972, the family watch Gene Cernan walk on the moon. Jose told his father, “That’s what I want to do”.   His father told him that he could do it but he needed to make himself a roadmap to follow. “And don’t skip any of the steps.”

Jose graduated from high school in Stockton although he had not learned English until he was twelve. He earned a BSEE from the University of the Pacific and then an MS from UC Santa Barbara. He joined the Johnson Space Center and held a number of assignments while applying for the astronaut program. He applied again, was rejected again.  NASA let it be known they would like their personnel to know some Russian (for space station work). He learned Russian.  He pursued every avenue they suggested. Finally,  after TWELVE TIMES,  he was accepted into the 2004 astronaut class and on August 28, 2009 he achieved his dream: two weeks on the Space Shuttle Discovery. He sent the first tweet from space in Spanish.

 Since then he has run for Congress, unsuccessfully. Clearly we haven’t heard the last from him.  His “Reach for the Stars” foundation encourages kids to explore careers in space.  The gloom and doom which was underlying the ceremony due to the recent murders in Isla Vista could have taken over, but didn’t have a chance after Jose finished speaking. It was a good day, and he didn’t skip any of the steps.

FOOTNOTE: The road from the Bay Area up here is an AWFUL ROAD which seems to get worse every year. I kept thinking how much it would be to be riding a bus or a nice relaxing TRAIN. Talk about reaching for the stars!