Saturday, July 30, 2011

There’s no hiding now….

We’ve been reporting on The Ostrich’s multi-year tax delinquencies to it’s home town for some months now.  To the best of our knowledge, there has been no reporting on it elsewhere.

Until this week, that is.  The current edition of The Forecaster has a lengthy front page article on the subject entitled “Newspaper’s tax woes….”  It’s one of the longest articles we’ve seen in this publication.

We’ve suggested you might want to minimize your cash exposure in any subscription arrangement with the local daily, as we have.  This article reinforces the idea, if you don’t mind us saying so.  And it does appear to suggest that the paper may not be ‘long lasting.’

Clearly, The Forecaster has nothing to lose and something to gain in this situation.  Still, the article is an in depth look at a number of problems at the paper, and also includes a listing of the town’s other ‘top’ tax delinquents, including George Schott, the investor who bought the Atrium Inn some years back, and recently purchased all the former Navy housing, both on and off base.

The reporter contacted a media ethics expert (no really, that’s what the article calls her!) at a journalism school in Florida.  Geez….did she have to go more than 1,000 miles just to find one?

The ethics expert said that unpaid taxes are a worrisome sign. She added:

"Journalism is supposed to help other people fulfill their civic role, and if you're not fulfilling your civic role – and paying taxes is part of that – you may lose a little bit of standing with the audience as you try and and inspire others to engage in holding government accountable,"

Gee, you think????  A little bit of standing??  Talk about treading lightly!  That pretty much tells us what modern day “media ethics” is all about, and the standards, if you can call them that, they apply.

Scold the locals about shared sacrifice, ooze sanctimony about your noble role as ‘government watchdog,’ demand that others pay their ‘fair share’ to bring about social justice, claim to have vetted clearly questionable claims when you haven’t, and then risk giving up a “little bit of standing” when you don’t pay your taxes like the rest of the working shlubs in town?

Perhaps the word “ethics” has been revised.  If so, would someone please send us the new meaning, so we can use it to guide our future efforts? 

And if we don’t pay our upcoming tax bill, will you only consider us to have given up an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit of standing? 

If that’s all that’s at stake, reputation-wise, why would anyone pay their taxes on time?

Throwing sand at Sanders

In our most recent post, we mentioned that the Ostrich had endorsed a sky is falling assessment by Bernie Sanders, avowed socialist in the US Senate.

We came across an interesting item in the Wall Street Journal this week that applies directly to this position; it talks very succinctly of the history of the unsustainable entitlement state we have become, and that has us headed in an unsustainable death spiral.  According to Sanders and his ilk, including the erstwhile opinion editor at The Ostrich, cutting anything from our huge budgets, or even capping them, is akin to a vicious attack on the vast majority of the population.  In their view, we have no choice but to continue borrowing and printing money, no matter the consequences.  That whole ‘shared sacrifice’ thing.

If you want to see just how we have allowed things to get away from us, through undamped and runaway growth in obligations, read the article, which you can find here.

You’ll find these gems:

In inflation-adjusted dollars, Medicaid cost $4 billion in 1966, $41 billion in 1986 and $243 billion last year.

Yes, you read that right; that’s growth in inflation adjusted dollars.

According to the most recent government data, today some 50.5 million Americans are on Medicaid, 46.5 million are on Medicare, 52 million on Social Security, five million on SSI, 7.5 million on unemployment insurance, and 44.6 million on food stamps and other nutrition programs. Some 24 million get the earned-income tax credit, a cash income supplement.

By 2010 such payments to individuals were 66% of the federal budget, up from 28% in 1965. (See the second chart.) We now spend $2.1 trillion a year on these redistribution programs, and the 75 million baby boomers are only starting to retire.

There are two charts in the column that should hit you over the head like a 2x4 in portraying our road to financial ruin, brought to us compliments of the clamoring masses and election officials who buy the votes of the clamorers with our tax dollars.  Collectively, you can think of them as the free lunch crowd, where you pay for the lunches, whether you realize it or not.

We all know The Ostrich has always been fond of reader submissions that assert that defense spending is the root of all social and economic ‘injustice.’  Our local area is full of true believers in such wisdom.  Here’s a relevant quote from the subject article:

On Monday night Mr. Obama blamed President George W. Bush's "two wars" for the debt buildup. But national defense spending was 7.4% of GDP and 42.8% of outlays in 1965, and only 4.8% of GDP and 20.1% of federal outlays in 2010. Defense has not caused the debt crisis.

Those who can refute this claim are welcome to submit their arguments by way of comment, or with a guest submission.

And unlike ‘for-profit’ media in the area (at least at one time), we will vet any such offerings to the best of our ability, or tell you instead that we didn’t bother and let you decide what is true and what isn’t.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blogging immortality slips right through our fingers….The Ostrich gets away

And we have no one to blame but ourselves.  As we said in our most recent, yet long ago post, summer laziness was overtaking us in matters of editorial output, and in this case, it slapped us hard across our ample tukkis and denied us a chance for fame and fortune in our chosen pursuit.

The narrative below explains exactly what we mean; let the weeping begin.

The Ostrich puts its head in the Sand(ers)

A few days after returning from our trip, we went off to pre-pay our heating oil plan for the coming year.  This brought to mind the fiasco at Thibeault Energy in the past year, in which, as best we know, many customers lost most or all of their account credit balance at the time the company failed.  Not a pretty picture.

This is the risk of prepaying, which is how subscribing to The Ostrich works.  We had been in the habit of prepaying a year’s subscription, until a few months back when we decided we would not renew until the publication paid up on its delinquent property taxes.

Which means we have no financial exposure should the Ostrich suddenly go belly up, like Thibeault did.  Those of you staring at an invoice to renew your subscription might want to think twice before handing over more than a few weeks advance payment.  That way, you’re only wagering the bare minimum of cash that they can deliver.  Having lived for months without the paper, we can assure you that after a few days, you’ll discover that life goes on just fine.

A day or so after signing up for our oil, a friend asked why we hadn’t commented on the then recent item in which Ostrich editors endorsed the pronouncements of Senator Bernie Sanders, an admitted socialist in the US Congress.

Hypocrisy and sanctimony, thy name is Ostrich, and this item is a shining case study to make the point.  This tax delinquent media outlet preaches to us, the little people, about taxes.  Which leads to a conclusion that we might well be better off with no newspaper if the only choice is one with no editorial integrity (see previous posts) and a condescending attitude towards its readers.  As a reminder, our second nickname for the Ostrich is the NOTWIUN – newspaper of the willfully uninformed.

The Sanders item is loaded with the class warfare rhetoric of big government collectivists - those who believe that government should have no limits, and that its primary role is to redistribute income, and in the process, choose winners and losers, with all the well-known dangers that creates.  In doing so, the attitude formation industry, of which print media is part, joins in the slime-pit that is big government politics.

“Working people/families” are the heroes of the op-ed, and “wealthiest Americans” are the villains.  And with a 25% increase in federal spending in the last two years, the editors swallow Sanders demagoguery that considers any cuts against this baseline as cruel and inhuman, and certain to result in bodies in the street.

Working people/families is the euphemism usually applied to union members and government employees.  I don’t know about you, but we spent 38 years working, and we were neither.  And we don’t believe that the choices before us “largely line up against the interests of working families.”  In fact, we consider that driving our country jobless and bankrupt does just that.

We also believe the first law of economics cannot be repealed: resources are limited, and there are competing demands for access to them.  In other words, we don’t have unlimited resources, and we can never have enough to satisfy everyone’s demand for fairness.

As for those villainous wealthy Americans, they already carry the lions’ share of the tax burden in this country, to the point where half the population pays little or no income taxes.  Is that fair?

There we go, getting ready to jump off the rant cliff, and we had no intention of doing so, so we’ll cease the distraction here.

And move on to the editors’ closing sentiment (emphasis ours):

Sen. Sanders is exactly right: This is a “pivotal moment” in our country’s history. What’s required is a true “shared sacrifice” — one that includes the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations.

It’s what working families need and want.

That pretty much captures the overall theme of the editorial.  And It had been my intention from my first thinking on this post that I would close it with this passage:

“So The Ostrich wants us to make a ‘shared sacrifice?’  Here’s an idea: how about if they make their point by sacrificing an editor or two, and share the funds saved with the town by paying off their delinquent property tax bills?  It’s what Brunswick’s working and property tax paying families need and want.”

And now, the missed opportunity angle.  If we had completed this post, with the closing statement above, and published it say, no later than mid-last week, we would have set ourselves to look prescient at the very least, or influential, if we wanted to delude ourselves even further.  And in the process, scored a very large scoop for the uncompensated blogging community.

Why?  Well in case you didn’t already know, we’ll tell you why.  While in town yesterday, we ran across a discarded copy of Friday’s Ostrich, and what to our wondering eyes should appear, but a lead op-ed titled “Gone fishin’.”  In the item, Jim McCarthy, once managing editor, and more recently, opinion editor, says his farewells to readers, because ‘it’s time for me to do something different,’ and ironically, we couldn’t agree more.  We found this explanation to be, well, a bit ambiguous to say the least.

Said former editor is the primary reason this blog was created, and as readers know, we have had our share of run-ins with him.  While we are a charitable lot, it is our belief that the editorial policies of the Ostrich, particularly as expressed on the opinion page, have been a disservice to the community, and very likely a major contributing factor to the sharp decline in circulation figures.  So we’ll wish him well in future endeavors and leave it at that.

We have no idea whether this is simply a coincidental change in staff, or an indicator that fiscal matters continue to trend downward at The Ostrich, and we’ll soon see more indications of that.

Either way, it seems like a good reminder to minimize your subscription commitment to them, and a good reminder to us to get our collective publishing energies back on track.

And you can rest assured that your subscription remittals to us are safe; we’re not like all the others.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Frosty’s flops, sad to say….

We’ve spent a number of years as a devotee of Frosty’s unique and delectable donuts, often visiting multiple times a week, sipping coffee and eating donuts while catching up on our reading.

Sadly, in recent years the shop has been so unpredictable and unreliable, that whether we wanted to or not, we were forced to wean ourselves from their offerings.  Hannaford’s donuts aren’t the best, but they are there whenever you want them, and there’s something to be said for that.

Upon returning from our recent trip, we noticed a sign in Frosty’s window saying ‘new hours – 4 to 1.’  This led us to believe that they had added new staff, since one of their biggest problems is that they have no bench.  If one of the family is under the weather (a very frequent occurrence in recent years), or a hired hand at the front counter says goodbye, the place is shuttered for days, if not weeks.  The best they had been able to do in recent months is be open to 11am, which eliminated any possibility that I would do my mid-day drop-in.

So, after dropping by Leo’s Barber Shop last week for my usual style cut, hair coloring, and facial, I thought I’d hike on over to ‘the Fro’ to check out their new M.O.  I got there a little after 12:30, which I figured gave me enough time to inhale a couple of fried treats and wash them down with a cup of Jamaican Me Crazy from Wicked Joe’s.

The sweet young lady behind the counter asked what I’d like; they had quite a selection for this late in the day.  She started to put my picks in a bag, and I said “no, I’ll have them here.”  She said “you know, we’re closing in 20 minutes.”  I still thought no problemo.

Then I noticed that the front counter looked like it had been rearranged to make more room for providing service.  It seemed strange, but I said “you do have coffee, don’t you?”  To which the young lass replied “no, I’ve already dumped then all and cleaned them out.”  It was then I realized the two rows of coffee air pots had simply vanished from the counter.

Which put me in a really crummy funk.  Apparently the new help believes that ‘closing at 1’ means she walks out the front door at the sound of one bell, and she does everything she can to make sure nothing delays her in that departure.

I wondered if Bob and June were aware of this rather unwelcoming approach to closing, especially compared to past years.  I suspected it had something to do with the rather large selection of items still available just prior to lock-up, which is the exact opposite of what I came to expect over the years.

Having no real option but to sit down, sans coffee, and eat my donuts, it then dawned on me that the musical background in the shop had changed.  Rather than the well-worn Jimmy Swaggart gospel music CDs, I was hearing some semi-modern genre of rock that I cannot identify, but which I’m sure is more appropriate to the tastes of the new counter help, rather than those of the owners.

Say what you want about Frosty’s atmosphere and unchanging tastes in music.  But when you can’t get coffee 20 minutes before closing, and then have to deal with music that might as well be from Mars, there’s no denying that the full Frosty’s experience is no longer available.

Which is a sad commentary on the little things in life.  The older we get, the more we realize that nothing lasts forever – not our parents, not our friends, not your favorite restaurants, not all those things that become part of the fabric of your life, whether you realize it or not.

But is it too much to ask that a couple of the best donuts ever and a cup of coffee just keep on keeping on?

Apparently it is, although we will make an attempt to get there earlier one of these days, when an owner is on premise to see what the place is like then.  Right after we down that nearby rubber tree plant.

Italy & the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…

Lately the phone has been ringing off the hook here at the editorial offices.  So much so that we’ve taken to not answering it.

The callers haven’t been readers wondering why we’ve been persona non publicato, or expressing gratitude for the lack of idiotic commentary.

Instead, it’s been a steady stream of fund-raisers and poll-takers, apparently attempting to make up for their inability to bother us while we were out of town recently.  It turns out we had inadvertently (I think) disabled the answering machine feature on our phone before we left.

Well anyway, the Poppycock’s recently enjoyed a 16 day trip to Italy.  We spent most of it in a medieval walled village in Tuscany, and the last two days in Rome, where we took two tours that were true ‘immersion’ experiences, with sauna like conditions thrown in.  Here are a couple of pictures to give you some idea of what we enjoyed.

The first is taken out of the front window of our apartment, showing some sort of min-festival parade taking place in the street below:


This next one is a view of the surrounding countryside from the other side of our apartment:


Such a trip, with no TV, no radio, and no newspapers to speak of, really distances you from the same old, same old.  And it is very difficult on several levels to adjust upon return.  That includes getting back in the loop and commenting on various goings on, as has been our habit for years now.

So in case you were concerned or wondering about us, fear not.  All is well, and we are well.  We are finding it a struggle, however, to work up much enthusiasm for getting ‘back in the loop’ and offering up our unsolicited essays.

Especially given the onslaught of real summer conditions.  Weeds looked like they had put in two months of growth in the two weeks we were gone, and various other summerizing chores need our attention.  We have family arriving tomorrow, and with that, the inevitable slide into what we hope will be a more carefree summer routine, in which we let our usual interests and more mundane pursuits slide. 

Summer is too short to mess up with obligations, real or imagined.  So while we have a few items lined up to take care of, we have no illusions that our publishing schedule will return to normal, whatever the hell that is, until summer is over, whatever the hell that means in Maine.

So now you  know the rest of the story.  But before we close this item, some tips and tidbits from our trip to Italy.

Tuscan Vino Rosso:  There is no such thing as bad red wine in the Tuscany region.  Everything we had, from about $6 a bottle on up, was wonderful.  You just can’t go wrong.

Rental Car GPS:  If you are going overseas, and plan on getting a GPS for your rental car, I strongly recommend you get it from Auto Europe, headquartered here in Portland.  They’ll rent you one independent of who you get the car from, although they are the best for that too.  You’ll save money on the GPS rental, and at least in our case, the lady in the machine spoke highway numbers, etc, in English, not Italian, which I have been told happens with other sources.

Currency Exchange:  Make sure you have sufficient Euro’s with you when you get there, and you might as well plan on getting an ATM card if you don’t have one.  I tried to buy some Euro’s here in town before we left, and got nowhere with three banks.  My own said they could order some for me, and have them in a few days.  The others wouldn’t even do that for non-customers.  I don’t know what the exchange rate would have been; there wasn’t time to wait for them to arrive.  AAA does have them on hand, but only in fixed packages costing $100 US or $250 US.  Their rate is terrible, but I’m glad I had some.  Rates at the airport are just as bad.  Once in Italy, a hike to several banks resulted in repeated refusals to change US $ to Euros, or to providing cash advances on our credit card.  In each case, a referral to another bank was given, with the same result.  Fortunately, our friends had an ATM card and helped us out.  The rate of exchange is most favorable that way.

Squash Blossoms:  Yup, you read that right.  If you’ve never had them, and we hadn’t, you’re missing out on a real treat.  We bought them at a local farmer’s market in our village, and prepared them by dipping in a simple, light batter (tempura like) and sautéing in a little olive oil until golden.  They are delicious….kind of like vegetable candy.  It may be the only way to get them around here is in your own garden.

Add these to the simple but wonderful food we had dining out, and the fabulous fresh pasta dishes we cooked, and the veal scallopini dishes we prepared, the fresh rustic fruit tarts, the desserts to die for, the fresh pesto, and ……….

There’s just too much to ever tell you about, and just the mere mention is driving me crazy.

So buongiorno, buongiorno, buongiorno.  At least for now.

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