Monday, November 21, 2011

Amtrak Foot Warmer?

You may have noted when driving by Maine Street Station in recent weeks that concrete work for the boarding platform is under way.  Here are a couple of views we took on a recent journey past the area.



There are two widely separated ramps already poured, setting the stage for a rather long spanning platform to accommodate the 100 or so passengers projected to arrive every day by the consultants we use to justify otherwise unjustifiable spending, or more appropriately, speculation with other people’s money. 

Whether it’s five trains a day with 20 passengers each, or two trains a day with 50 passengers each, who knows?  And whose counting anyway when the funding is ‘free?’

We heard recently that the ramp will be 400 feet long (think a football field plus end zones.)  That’s why it’s virtually impossible to capture the grandeur of the entire structure in a single view.  Imagine a world class Olympic sprinter needing something like 10 seconds to dash from one end to the other.

And wonder of wonders, we understand that a portion of it will be heated, no doubt to melt snow and prevent ice build-up.

So if you should find yourself in town this winter, and need to get your tootsies nice and toasty, you’ll be able to head on over to the station platform and get them as warm as roasted chestnuts.

For those of you who support the Amtrak ‘experiment’ because it will save the earth by reducing the number of cars on the road, please make sure you revise your calculations to include the energy costs of heating the platform.  It might help remind you of why you don’t have a heated driveway to deal with snow and ice.

Here at Side, we’ve had ‘cold feet’ about the whole train thing since it began, convinced it will be a forever subsidized sop to the local constituency, suitable for self-serving publicity events, photos, and grandiose campaign statements, but not much else. 

And if you think about it, another income redistribution scheme.  Which to many, makes it a wonder of wonders.  You know; social and economic justice and all that.

Go figure.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MSHA: assorted foot (-in mouth?) notes

We just can’t stop our trailing thoughts on this subject, so while they are ‘top of mind,’ we’ll expunge them from our troubled braincase by passing them along.  Let’s set the stage for today’s commentary with this gem;

It's often the case that when a critic uses an embarrassingly accurate term to describe what a wrong-doer is doing, the wrong-doer protests: "Why don't you use my white-washed, conscience-soothing euphemism?" Such euphemisms, they claim, help promote "civilized debate."

- Steve Kangas

Let’s be honest with each other; the activity we’re discussing isn’t ‘affordable housing’ any more than a ‘free lunch’ is free.  In plain and simple English, which is rare these days, we’re talking about government subsidized housing.  No more, no less. 

Calling it affordable housing is a ‘white washed, conscience-soothing, euphemism,’ and carries the added benefit of making lots of bureaucrats and social justice advocates feel good about themselves, if not morally superior to the realists among us.

In objective economic terms, many of the projects that fall under this heading are actually unaffordable in real market terms.  If you’ve ever owned free market rental property, like we have, you know that the operative equation is whether the property can ‘carry itself’ at the very least, and hopefully provide a real return on investment.

In our simple way of thinking, there are three parties involved in this ‘affordable housing’ game (we had to bite our tongue more than once to avoid using the word ‘racket.’)  One party is the government, acting as proxy for taxpayers. This party doesn’t particularly care about rational concepts of ‘affordability,’ or return on investment, since it can compel whatever revenue it needs to make the deal work by force of law from we taxpayers.

The second party is a contractor/developer/property manager who decides to enter the ‘affordable housing’ sector as a business opportunity.  Think Rosa Scarcelli and Stanford Management, for example, who we referenced in recent posts.  As a side-note, they/she ‘have’ three properties right here in Brunswick.

Those who operate such properties are freed from the economic realities of open market, competitively priced rental properties in the region of interest.  They know they have a captive, targeted, government subsidized rental client base. If they are developers as well, construction costs are similarly distorted by government involvement and override of market reality, plus various and assorted tax credits, etc.

The third party is the client or tenant, to whom the housing is affordable in relative terms, but only because other persons (taxpayers) subsidize it, no matter how unaffordable it may be in real economic terms.

So why don’t we just call it government subsidized housing?  See the quote we opened with above.  Some will call us insensitive or impolite for suggesting such a thing.  Poppycock; PC terminology like ‘affordable housing’ is insensitive, impolite, and far worse. It disguises the insidious and widespread use of government power to insinuate itself into every aspect of our daily lives, and every square mile of our local landscape.  Signs in front of such housing seem benign and vaguely uplifting, instead of reminding us that the heavy hand of government is involved.

Not only that, but it sets the stage for capitol cronyism by which those with the ‘right’ connections can become wealthy without suffering the uncertainties of free markets; perhaps even wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns for high political office.

Wow; we’ve exceeded the expectations we had for ourselves as we began this post, so we need to head for the exit.  As we do, we’ll leave you with media coverage of yesterday’s meeting:

Then you can go to this item, which has a link to an audio only report on the meeting.

In one final thought, we can’t help but marvel at the irony that Dale McCormick, MSHA Director since 2005, was formerly Maine State Treasurer for 8 years or so.  This is the very same position now held by Bruce Poliquin, who is leading the way in demanding accountability from quasi-governmental ‘authorities’ who manage huge sums of taxpayer funds with virtually no oversight.

If you think the election a year ago didn’t make any difference, you haven’t been paying attention.  And it’s time you do, because ‘sunlight,’ even in the dead of winter, is illuminating all sorts of interesting things.  Many of which haven’t had to wear sunscreen for decades.

Maybe you should make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses handy, so that when unexpected glare occurs, your ‘eyes’ are protected.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

MSHA, affordable housing, and McKeen Street

We attended the MSHA board meeting today (Tuesday, November 15), and will do our best, which usually isn’t good enough, to keep this report short.

Before we begin the report, however, an item we forgot to include in the ‘lagging thoughts’ post.  (See why ‘our best’ isn’t usually good enough?)

Leave it to the government to conclude that $300,000 apartments are ‘affordable,’ when the median housing price in Maine is well below $200,000.  Ponder these figures in the context of this recent report, which addresses former Navy housing in Brunswick:

Schott said prices for homes in the McKeen Street tract would likely range from $110,000 to $145,000, where most units have three bedrooms.  (emphasis ours)
“It is definitely affordable housing in that range,” Schott said. “There’s not much in that price range in town.”

It occurred to us in this context that most of us wouldn’t think of Cadillacs, BMWs, and Volvos as ‘affordable transportation.’  Or Mercedes Benz, for that matter.

But if government buys these vehicles, and then turns them over to you and I for say, 25% of the purchase price, guess what – they suddenly seem very affordable, don’t they? 

Which brings us to the central question here: when a bureaucrat uses the word ‘affordable,’ what do they mean? 

Do they mean ‘affordable’ to the provider, in this case the government, which really means we taxpayers, compared to prices in the open marketplace, or do they mean ‘affordable’ to the recipient, after government subsidies are applied?  Based on our experience to date, including the meeting today, we are convinced the former is irrelevant in deference to the latter.

So let us summarize our experience today.  The ‘open to the public’ meeting was to begin at 9:00 AM.  Concerned about the parking situation, we arrived at 8:20, and secured our spot.  After 10 minutes or so inspecting the interior of our truckster, we decided to enter the MSHA building, thinking we might get to find a seat in the meeting room and have a cup of coffee.

Dream on, reader.  Upon entering the building, we were asked to sign in, and were given a badge, and then told to wait in the lobby area with other arriving members of the public.  This did not create a positive first impression.  At least we weren’t given full Hazmat suits to put on.

40 minutes later, at 9:10, we were escorted to the elevator and up to the meeting, which was already underway, it appeared.  It was standing room only, with perhaps 30 or so general public showing up.

We could be wrong, but our sense is that this is a modern day record for such meetings.

So – what happened?  In our view, MSHA staff got a real surprise from the Commissioners in attendance, and also heard from several members of the public, your correspondent included, about project cost profiles that are way out of whack with broader real estate market figures.

Our overall impression is this.  As we’ve told you before, we spent our career in the defense industry, and were frequently pummeled by government officials and the public alike over “$400 hammers” and “$600 toilet seats.”  Almost without exception, those costs, if even true, are entirely due to government regulations for these items.

Still, we were a business that competed with other businesses, and we had to make a profit to survive.  Over the years, we improved our quality and cost profiles to make ourselves more competitive, and to ensure our SURVIVAL.

Today’s meeting revealed an MSHA culture totally devoid of competitive challenges, profit/loss considerations, and survival instincts.  You couldn’t avoid the impression this is an organization that believes there is not a single threat to their existence, and even more so, with a public mandate to keep doing what they do exactly as they have been doing it.

In other words, we saw another concrete example of why state and federal governments are in a fiscal crisis beyond any in our history.

At least as we see it.  And we’re doing our best to watch.

Monday, November 14, 2011

MSHA – Lagging thoughts, as usual….

Some tidbits, in no particular order:

We hear much about ‘crony capitalism’ these days; books on the subject have been written and published.  We think the label may be off the mark, so Side hereby coins the term “capitol cronyism” to describe the likes of Rosa Scarcelli’s ‘Stanford Management’ and too many similar enterprises to mention.  In these cases, ‘capitalism’ as commonly understood is not involved, but capitols, of both the state and federal type, clearly are.  Just to remind you of the scale of such ‘business:’

Rosa Scarcelli currently owns and manages over eighty affordable housing complexes in Connecticut, Maine and Pennsylvania and continues to grow Stanford Management’s affordable housing portfolio.  She has managed the development of over $500 million in real estate assets throughout the Eastern United States, and oversees a large staff in several regional offices.

We’re frightened, frankly, as we ponder just how many such ‘under the radar’ government based speculative enterprises exist, operating well outside the normal bounds of free market forces.

Now let’s talk about MSHA operation.  We’d sure like to have someone explain the business model from inception to destruction for MSHA projects.  Who is the funder?  What is the competition process?  Who owns and operates the result?  Who profits from the project (see Rosa Scarcelli and family)?  What form does the $13,000 plus per home for more than 84,000 Maine homes take?  is this a permanent arrangement, or does the benefit expire at some point?  What are the qualifications to receive the benefit? 

In other words, could we please see a flow chart of funds across all stages of MSHA activities?

Moving on, it turns out that the LIHEAP program is run by MSHA; that’s the “Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program,” and it’s always in the news this time of year.  Recently, AARP, that supposed non-partisan organization, is all in a dither over funds available under the program this year, and wants State Government to pony up added dollars to boost the kitty:

AARP urges state support for heat assistance

November 10, 2011 11:36 PM

To the Editor:

....AARP’s Public Policy Institute ... issued a report on winter heating is not good.

....For New England residents age 65 and older, the average....cost in 2010-11 was $3,058. Projections indicate ... for 2011-12, this will jump almost 10 percent.

.... huge cut to LIHEAP ...will...affect many Mainers... AARP’s sincere hope that Gov. Paul LePage will consider directing part of the state budget toward helping low-income Mainers as they struggle to stay warm.

John Hennessy
AARP Maine Director of Advocacy


So let’s get this straight: by their own admission, MSHA dishes out more than $1 Billion annually in federal funds, but they don’t have enough for heating cost assistance? More than 84,000 homes getting an average of $13,000 each in ‘services,’ but there isn’t enough for heating costs?

Next subject: interestingly, one of the most prominent items on MSHA’s web site is their report on how the salaries of their more than 100 employees compare to salaries elsewhere:

Each year, the Maine Department of Labor independently compares salaries of many organizations to comparable positions in the total Maine market. Using the labor department’s 2010 data and comparing it to MaineHousing salaries, MaineHousing employees are paid on average 15% below the market.

At the end of the discussion is a link to a list of their salaries compared to ‘the Maine market.’  You can follow up and see what you think.

By the way, for those of you interested in just how much money has been spent by Maine Government in recent years, including federal funds, to address AARP concerns, take a look at this resource:

It’s awful hard to look at these totals and accept that any aspect of government services is suffering, since total state expenditures have grown and grown over the years, and most of all, the federal component. At a far faster rate than economic output has.

One wonders how many other MSHA type operations there are funneling billions to destinations unknown and lacking in full public disclosure. 

More than you know, more than we can guess, we are confident.   We better stop here, or the venting could get ugly.  Next thing you know, we’d be making up stories about federal subsidies being used to bring trains to Brunswick, whether that makes any sense or not.

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Urgent: Error in MSHA meeting location…

In this post the other day, there was a quotation saying the MSHA

Board Meeting, tomorrow, Tuesday, November 15th at 9am, would be held at 55 Water Street in Augusta. 

The correct location is 353 Water Street, Augusta, which is the MSHA building.

Sorry for the error; hope we see some of you there.

PS: If you go to google earth, or google maps, it shows 353 Water Street as several blocks below (south) of the State Capitol, yet the MSHA site, and the actual sat picture of the building, show that it is above (north) of the State Capitol.  So please be very careful how you find directions to the building.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh what tangled webs we weave… MSHA postscript

Do any of you remember Rosa Scarcelli, the oh-so-rational sounding independent in the race for Governor of Maine during the election run-ups in 2010?

We had completely forgotten about her until the study of the MSHA topic reminded us of ‘affordable housing.’

Take a look at this, from her web site:

Rosa Scarcelli

Chief Executive Officer

Rosa Scarcelli currently owns and manages over eighty affordable housing complexes in Connecticut, Maine and Pennsylvania and continues to grow Stanford Management’s affordable housing portfolio.

She has managed the development of over $500 million in real estate assets throughout the Eastern United States, and oversees a large staff in several regional offices.

Affordable Housing Finance ranked her company as one of the fifty best affordable housing providers and as one of the ten fastest-growing housing providers in the country.

From the start of her career in 1992, Rosa has passionately devoted herself to real estate. She has since gained well-rounded experience in her industry, mastering such diverse areas as affordable  housing, the restoration of historically significant properties and urban renewal.

She has developed properties for both residential and commercial uses, in small rural towns and major metropolitan areas alike.

She received her Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College.

Would it surprise you to learn that even we are astonished by what we find when we start to turn over rocks?

And we’re especially heartened by the connection to our own local Ivory Tower.

Pogo, please call Poppycock Media at your earliest convenience; we’d like to schedule an interview.

And excuse me if I don’t answer your emails in a timely fashion.  I’ll be outside behind the barn barfing my brains out.

MSHA….let the borrowed OPM roll

(Ed. Note: For the unitiated, ‘OPM,’ pronounced like o-pi-em, is an abbreviation for other people’s money.)

(Ed. Note: the above photos are of various ‘affordable housing’ projects around the country, which is to say government subsidized housing.  Their relevance will become clear, hopefully, in what follows.)

Let’s begin with two questions to stimulate your curiosity:

1)  Do you know what the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) is and does?

2)  Do you know how big a purse they control the strings of?

We’d be a bit surprised if you do know about them, and we damn well expect you to be surprised when you find out how much funding they control.  We were beyond surprised ourselves…we were stunned.  And we don’t stun all that easily, given where we’ve been and what we’ve seen over the years, both in Washington and Augusta.

MSHA is an ‘Authority.’  Where have we heard that term before?  Oh yeah, right here locally, where we have the MRRA – the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.  In it’s former life, you may recall, MRRA was an Agency, but has been promoted to government big league status: an AUTHORITY!

To explain what the Maine State Housing Authority is, let’s go right to the source, Maine Statute (State Law, that is), which begins with these foreboding words:

§4722. Maine State Housing Authority established; powers, duties and restrictions

The Maine State Housing Authority is established and is a public body corporate and politic and an instrumentality of the State. [1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); 1989, c. 6, (AMD); 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD).]

1. Powers and duties.  In addition to the powers granted by section 4741, the Maine State Housing Authority shall have the powers and duties to: (said powers and duties are enumerated in sub-paragraphs A thru Z followed by AA thru DD; see link above to read the item in totality)

(don’t fail to take a glimpse at section 4741, titled “Powers generally,” which lists 18 separate items under that heading.)

If you want your head to spin, your eyes to cross, your tongue to twist, your hair to catch on fire, your knickers in a knot, and your stomach to wretch, try reading and understanding all referenced and relevant sections.  And when you’re finished, please send us a 500 word taxpayer summary. 

We know there are qualified counsel among our readers; what a great little homework exercise for these “interested students.”  We promise to publish worthy submissions.

We ourselves haven’t read all the statutory language, because the details are not germane to the points to be made here.  Just the references in each sub-paragraph, parenthetical or otherwise, are enough to keep a law-school class busy for a year, let alone the overworked staff here at Poppycock Media.

Can you imagine how many state and federal bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, ‘non-profits,’ assorted do-gooders, busybodies, law firms, and government hangers-on were involved in the construction of this set of ‘powers and duties,’ complete with all the references? While at the same time making sure the Authority was not subject to the oversight of the Governor or the Legislature?

Now multiply that thought by 50, since we’re confident that every state in the Union has a similar ‘Authority,’ a ‘body politic’ and ‘instrumentality of the state,’ that operates beyond the oversight of the elected representatives of the people.

Maybe it’s just us, but this seems like the Fantasyland version of a recipe for abuse, just waiting to grow government, make new friends, and pick winners and losers.  And perhaps, just perhaps, a healthy dose of crony capitalism thrown in for good measure.  Along with tax loopholes, tax breaks, and other forms of ‘corporate welfare.’

Take note, please, all you big government social and economic justice advocates.  And those concerned about the 99% v. 1% ‘debate.’

As fate would have it, we know some people who are ‘in the know’ on this subject and many others, and on your behalf, we’ve dug  into the facts attaching to the MSHA.  It turns out the results of last year’s election have caused eyes to be cast on government activities that have been operating with out much interest by our leaders for decades, like the MSHA, the Maine Turnpike Authority, and others.  Which is a very good thing, given their scale and reach both politically and fiscally.

Here’s some summary data we’ve obtained. The numbers that follow are from a report prepared by the MSHA titled "Federal Housing funds at work in Maine".

MEDIAN HOME PRICE:  Maine:  $177,500.  First Congressional District:  $221,900.  Second District: $138,000

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME:  Maine: $45,734. 1st District: $52,328: 2nd District: $39,365.

INCOME NEEDED TO AFFORD MEDIAN HOME PRICE:  Maine:  $60,450; 1st District: $75,550; 2nd District: $47,000.

HOUSEHOLDS UNABLE TO AFFORD MEDIAN PRICE:  Maine: 63%; 1st District: 69%; 2nd District: 58%.

AVERAGE TWO BEDROOM RENT:  Maine: $722; 1st District: $840; 2nd District: $611.

HOUSEHOLDS UNABLE TO AFFORD AVERAGE TWO BEDROOM RENT:  Maine: 55%; 1st District: 55%; 2nd District: 54%.


(Ed. Note: yes, that’s BILLION with a B, and that works out to an average of roughly $850 per person for every man, woman, and child in Maine.  That’s just federal dollars; we’ve got homework to do to determine how much other funding they spend per year!)


(Ed. Note: Brunswick, in round numbers, is about one-sixtieth of Maine’s population.  If the ‘homes served’ were evenly distributed across the population, 1,400 of them would be in Brunswick.  That’s about 6 times the number of housing units in the former Navy housing complex on McKeen Street.  Think about that as you drive around town, and what it means about the scope of state and federal government involvement in our existence.  1,400 homes in Brunswick alone!)



   -ELM TERRACE, PORTLAND:  Projected cost of $314,000 per unit.

   -ASH ST., LEWISTON:  Projected costs of $273,000 per unit.

   -EMERY PROJECT, BIDDEFORD:  Cost per unit  $284,000.

   -MAINE HALL, BANGOR:  Cost per unit:  $214,000.

   -GILMAN PROJECT, WATERVILLE:  Cost per unit $292,000.

   -LOFTS, BATES MILL, LEWISTON:  Cost per unit: $199,375.

Think about those numbers for a long, hard moment; government “affordable housing” whose price puts it beyond the reach of more than two-thirds of Maine residents!  And keep in mind that 40% of every dollar the feds spend these days is created out of thin air (printed, or borrowed.)

The units referred to above are estimated to run in the range of 1,000 to 1,200 square feet each.  (We’d hope that “lofts” are less than that, but hey, when you’re the government, why skimp?)

In round numbers then, the price per square foot runs in the range of $200 to about $300 per square foot.  And this is in keeping with MSHA’s mission of creating ‘affordable housing,’ at least in government terms, we must note. 

We invite you to consider what your own domicile might be worth at say, $250 per square foot, and then ask how that compares with what you paid for it, and what you think it could sell for today.  As for us, we would take the money and run if we could get it, and we bet you’d gladly do the same. Our number would be well beyond what we imagined we might get in our wildest dreams, before the housing market tanked.

If you had a Billion dollars a year to dispense in Maine, plus as yet unidentified additional sums, do you think you’d have lots of good friends?  And people gathering around your door at all hours of the day and night, promising to ‘go forth and do good’ if you’d just send them some of that little nest-egg?  And maybe building careers that allow them to prosper off the un-overseen flow of OPM?

Now some seemingly obvious questions.  What about mobile homes, the preferred affordable housing for many Maine citizens? 

Or factory built apartment modules?  What are the protocols for moving people along once they’ve had some number of years in these units, or is this a permanent ‘entitlement?’  Etc, etc, et cetera.

What about excess vacant housing stock on the open market?  Including vacated base housing here in Brunswick?  Why isn’t that good enough?

Now the real burning question: just how deep do you think the fiscal, monetary, and economic hole we are digging for ourselves goes?  And what chance do you think we have of ever getting ourselves out of the hole?

For those of you with the gumption to follow  up on the subject, here’s an article to read:

And then there’s this:

This item contains this info:

The first MSHA board meeting with its new members is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15 at the MSHA offices at 353 Water Street in Augusta.  All Authority board meetings are open to the public.  For the first time in memory, the meetings will be audio recorded. (Ed. Note: street address has been corrected.)

We hope you’ll consider coming to this meeting; we intend to do so, and we know others who plan to as well.  We expect this to be an ‘ah-ha’ moment for the leadership of MSHA, which has in all likelihood gotten a free pass from the taxpaying public for more years than you can count on your hands and feet.

We expect the entertainment and enlightenment level to be in the upper decile of such events.  Please join us, and bring some friends.

If only Frosty’s were still in business, we’d bring donuts for everyone, affordable or not.

Just too good not to pass along…

We have no idea who this guy is, but we came across this item in our morning ‘travels.’  We thinks he has something here.

Don’t let the term asymptote scare you; if you weren’t a math & science groupie, you may never have heard it before.  Think of it as a line or limit you keep getting closer and closer to, but never quite reach.  (Kind of like how the last two minutes of a football game never seems to end, right?)

As the entire office staff watched it, we were reminded of a quote we heard a few years back:

In our founding years, we said ‘give me liberty, or give me death.’  Years later, that changed to ‘give me liberty.’  Now we’re at the point of ‘give me, give me..”

Anyhow, enjoy the show.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trains? Oh yeah…..and other tidbits….

In keeping with what has become the typical ‘walking-back’ of grand projections by government agencies, or even more likely, their highly prized ‘consultants,’ we pass along this recent update on the outlook for Amtrak service to Brunswick.  Note, of course, if you read the article, that the decline in outlook is because of selfish Brunswick residents, who have graciously provided an alibi for the usual suspects and their typically overblown sales jobs.

For a few years now, official bloviators have been promising 35,000 visitors a year to Brunswick, or an average of 100 per day, via trains from Boston.  Looks like that will have to be scaled back to 20,000 or fewer.  Lots of credibility here from all fronts, at least if you believe government agency spokespersons.

From the Forecaster: 

Update: Maintenance facility delay means fewer Amtrak Downeaster trips between Portland and Brunswick

We’re too worn out from fall yard clean up chores to comment at length on the news contained herein, with the following exceptions:

According to Quinn, a preliminary schedule has northbound trains passing through Freeport just before 12:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Trains heading south from Brunswick will stop in Freeport just after 7 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Are you kidding?  Are these times supposed to make sense from any point of view?

He (Wayne Davis, chairman of the rail-advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast) also expressed concern about the impact of decreased service on the Brunswick business community, especially new businesses at Brunswick Station that were expecting more than two daily round trips.

We’re trying our best to recall the “new businesses” at Brunswick Station, and all we come up with business-wise is Scarlet Begonia’s, Byrnes Irish Pub, and Park Row Interiors, none of which really qualify as ‘new businesses.’  If any of these chose their current location because they believed customers would come to Brunswick in droves by train from Boston to patronize their business, they have their collective heads up their collective…well, you get our drift.

Oh, we know, there’s the recently opened Mid-Coast walk-in clinic, and the orthopedic medical practice.  Are we supposed to believe they made their decision to open because of expected train passengers from Boston?  We were born at night, but not last night, to use the old bromide.

Look – it’s very simple; government agencies, their enablers, their consultants, and their assorted Kool-Aid sippers are all to willing to sell us pigs-in-a-poke, bills-of-goods, and fantasy land dreamscapes. 

It’s what they do, and it’s why we are at the brink of economic collapse from which there is no escape.

Teacher Pay

You already know where we stand on this subject.

That doesn’t mean we can’t burden you with our views yet again.

The most frequent shibboleth we hear on this subject is that ‘teachers are underpaid.’  Our view is that SOME teachers are UNDERPAID, and SOME teachers are OVERPAID.

in other words, we believer firmly that union contracts that reduce all teachers to a homogeneous group of nameless, faceless ‘members’ are an affront to the concept of professionalism, and more importantly, mock the very concept of teacher ‘excellence.’

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: any system that pays the very worst teachers the same as the very best teachers is unfair, unjust, and an insult to those who teach our children.  We cannot, for the life of us, understand how the vast majority of ‘educators’ have allowed themselves to be roped into such an arrangement.

And until they extract themselves from said arrangement, their protestations and equivocations will fall upon deaf ears at these offices.

Enough for now.  Here’s a recently published commentary on the subject.  Form your own opinions.

As for us, we will not waver from our conviction that the teachers’ loyalty to their unions and their anti-education agenda is their own worst enemy.  We will not change our opinion until the teachers’ change their allegiance.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Worried about your job?: post script

We came across this quote recently, and were fascinated by it.  The words speak to our own affliction: 

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write. -William Makepeace Thackeray, novelist (1811-1863)

With this as prelude, we remind you of a post we published yesterday that included these words:

Assuming the figures are valid, there was one school employee for every 8.47 students ten years ago, and one employee for every 6.47 students in the most recent fiscal year.  In so many words, department employment has remained largely flat in the face of a 27% decline in enrollment. 

Can you think of any other ‘profession’ that would be able to hold employment steady with a 27% decrease in ‘clients?’  Keep in mind we’re operating two fewer schools than just a few years ago.

As we laid our head upon the pillow last night, we realized that the government school ‘profession’ is unique, because even though the client base is down 27%, the revenue base is not.  Ten years ago in Brunswick, the school budget was $24 million; now it’s $33 million.  It’s been flat in the last few years despite major enrolment (‘client’) declines.

Jobs are not at risk because the revenue base for the school department is completely adjustable, independent of the number of students.  It’s a simple matter of using the ‘power of persuasion’ over a largely clueless, fawning, or scared public taxpayer base. Combined with the force of law to secure the revenue.  Property taxes are raised as necessary to provide the revenue the schoolies demand.

This situation is akin to the “he’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB'” concept we’ve been discussing in recent posts.  In so many words, “schools in Maine may be underperforming, but this underperforming school is OUR school.”

Another way to look at it is through the 99% vs 1% paradigm currently in vogue. Let’s describe the  99%, or more, in the terms mentioned above.  To whit:

  • The clueless:
    • “you mean we pay taxes to support the schools?”
    • “what are you gonna do; taxes are always going up.”
    • “I don’t have any idea how much we pay; our taxes are impounded as part of our house payment.”
    • “who knows what the right amount to pay for schools is?”
    • “I don’t have the time or the interest to worry about this; how much could it cost?”
  • The fawning:
    • “We moved to Brunswick because the schools are the absolute best.”
    • “People buy homes here because the schools are so good.”
    • “My child’s teacher is the best we’ve ever had.”
    • “There’s no amount of money that’s too much when it comes to the schools.”
    • “You simply can’t measure teacher effectiveness; it’s way too complicated to judge in such simple terms.”
    • “These are professionals, and we need to give them the latitude and compensation they deserve, even if we can’t measure their results.”
    • “I don’t care how much more the schools want; I'll gladly pay it.”
    • “The school board doesn’t have to disclose contract negotiations with the teachers’ union; we elect them to do that and we shouldn’t question what they do.”
    • “The children are our future; if you aren’t for the children, you should move elsewhere.”
  • The scared:
    • “I don’t want to speak up because I’m afraid of what might happen to my tax bill.”
    • “I spoke up in the past, and it didn’t make a bit of difference, other than my neighbors said I was anti-school and anti-children.”
    • '”What’s the use?; they’re just going to do what they always do, and why should I bother getting scorned in public?”
    • “If I speak up, they’ll take it out on my kids.”
    • “Who wants to be written up in the local paper as against ‘school excellence?’”

After you account for the above, you’re left with what might seem like the 1%, but is actually far less, who are willing to stand up and challenge the powers that be and the annual theatrics surrounding the budget.

Which is why our annual per student cost has grown from less than $7,000 to more than $13,000 in the last ten years. 

‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld.

And judging by what we read in the press about the current field of school board candidates, we can count on more of the same, or more.

No one seems interested in managing the school enterprise on behalf of property taxpayers.  Instead, they seem only to be interested in who can spend the most to prove they care the most. 

Or more.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fin-centric post script

For you hot car groupies out there, here’s a link to a car very, very close to the one this reporter had.  Same color, same engine.  And only $175,000!

Same color, but does not have the Chrysler 300 markings.  And exact same engine; make sure you look closely at it.  The carburetor on the left fuels the cylinders on the right, and vice versa.  THAT was some engine.

When we drove across country, and stopped at service stations and had the oil checked, it caused quite a stir when the gas jockey first saw those tubes and the carburetors outside the cylinder banks.

But they loved selling us gas!

Tuning up this SOB was quite a challenge.  To change plugs, you had to take off the front wheels and remove panels inside the fenders to get acess to the engine and the plugs.  You could not reach them from the top.

What fun.

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Oh, don’t you just love those ‘nice young people’ protesting down there on Wall Street?

Here in Maine, where we’re blessed with the oldest population of any state in the country, we often hear such kind and tolerant language when it comes to civil unrest and various other indiscretions from young and not so young ‘activists.’  And we often see very visible signs of such activists from many decades ago, who simply can’t resist plastering the back end of their Subarus and Volvos with the chicest bumper stickers du jour.

Good for them, we say.  At least if they’re sincere and act with integrity of purpose.

Like everything else these days, ‘protesting’ has evolved to become something more than meets the eye.  In this context, the notion of ‘useful idiots,’ often attributed to Lenin, is more apropos than ever.

(Just so you know, we’re Marxists here at Side.  Our favorite is Groucho, whose sense of humor was closest to our own.)

Who knows when things will turn violent…they already have, to some degree, and crime is rampant…and how violent for how long?

As Michelle Malkin said in her recent speech in Portland. the OWS protesters “want all the benefits of socialism, without any of the costs, and they want all the benefits of capitalism without any of the costs.”

Here’s some news you should find ‘amusing:’ those nice young people have attracted support from some very, very interesting corners.  Read here to have your eyes opened.

For those who don’t have the time, the patience, or the inclination to do so, here’s a list of prominent supporters, complete with reference links to back up the assertions:


The 99%: Official list of Occupy Wall Street’s supporters, sponsors and sympathizers

Communist Party USA

American Nazi Party

Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran

Barack Obama

The government of North Korea

Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam

Revolutionary Communist Party

David Duke

Joe Biden

Hugo Chavez

Revolutionary Guards of Iran

Black Panthers (original)

Socialist Party USA

US Border Guard

Industrial Workers of the World


Nancy Pelosi

Communist Party of China



International Bolshevik Tendency


White Revolution

International Socialist Organization

PressTV (Iranian government outlet)

Marxist Student Union

Freedom Road Socialist Organization


Party for Socialism and Liberation


Which proves once again just how irresistible the innocence and good intentions of ‘nice young people’ is to even the most hard-hearted among us.

And how many problems we can expect to have visited upon us from this ‘movement.’

We’re felling better already.  How about you?

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Worried about your job? Or know someone else who is?

Most of us who are vertical and taking nourishment know that the dominant theme of public discourse these days is jobs.  Millions have lost their jobs, unemployment is stuck at 9% plus, massive government spending is fixing nothing, and first time unemployment applications run about 400,000 a week.  Week after week.

In the midst of this economic goat rope, we’re forced to suffer the inane comments of our elite ruling class, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (or as we think of him, the Senate Mortician) and VP Joe (Joey Plugs) Biden prominent among them.  They want us to believe that things in the private sector are just peachy; it’s the public sector that is suffering.  Yah, shure, Oley.

We won’t bore you with source quotes; we have too much respect for your gastrointestinal well-being.  You can read the essentials here, complete with links to reference material.

As for the facts, you can go here to find figures based on the federal government’s own census data.  To put it mildly, Reid, Biden, and anyone else who backs them up on their claims are bald-faced liars, and should be brought up on charges for fragrant violation of the public trust.

Enough already.  We want to move on to local issues, the kind you’d expect to see discussed in the local press. If you believe in the tooth fairy and free lunches, that is.

We’ve reported on Brunswick School enrollment figures many times in the past, and most recently discussed it here.  Matched to budget figures, the net result is that per student expenditures have risen from less than $7000 per student in the first year of the new century to more than $13,500 per student in the current school year, or virtually double in a decade.

We had more than 3300 students then, and have less than 2500 now.  While not as severely, statewide enrolment has been declining steadily due to Maine’s demographic decline, a major problem in its own right.

Let’s move on to related school system employment.  Data received from town offices shows School Department employment of 398 early in this decade, rising to a peak of 415 three years ago, and a total of 396 in the fiscal year just passed.  These figures “represent the department’s best estimates of full time positions” according to a note on the data page.

Assuming the figures are valid, there was one school employee for every 8.47 students ten years ago, and one employee for every 6.47 students in the most recent fiscal year.  In so many words, department employment has remained largely flat in the face of a 27% decline in enrollment.  Can you think of any other ‘profession’ that would be able to hold employment steady with a 27% decrease in ‘clients?’  Keep in mind we’re operating two fewer schools than just a few years ago.

Here’s the ‘money fact:’ if the employee to student ratio had been held constant at 8.47, the department would have 303 employees now, or 93 fewer than the current total.  How much lower would that make your property tax bill?  Simple answer: a bunch.

Now the ‘money question:’ if enrolment had stayed flat over this time, how many employees might the department have added?  Would it be 93?  Actually, it could be considerably more if you go by the numbers alone.  At a ratio of 6.47, employment for 3350 students would be about 517, or over 120 more than the current figure and the head count a decade ago.

The pregnant puzzler, it goes without saying, is just how many new employees the department will demand if, against all odds, enrolment should start to rise again?

The underlying message here is that if you want to be immune from prevailing economic conditions, go to work for the government, and especially, the government schools.  Guaranteed raises, no performance standards, Cadillac benefits, and virtually lifetime employment no matter what.

We can only wonder when Harry the Undertaker and Joey Plugs will regale us with these inconvenient realities. 

And in a related story, hell freezes over.

Memory flogger, fin-centric variety

It’s a fairly well kept secret, but in some quarters around town, your humble correspondent is known as the Brunswick Fury, as in ‘a fury of creative energy.’ In other quarters, we’re known as the old fart, which is, in a manner of speaking, a ‘Fury’ that is well past it’s prime.

There is, ironically enough, another ‘Fury’ in our CV.  It’s a 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible.  We owned one for two years, the first of which was our senior year in college (Rutgers University.)

On our recent trek to the family reunion, we encountered almost a carbon copy as we were coming back into North Jersey from Pennsylvania.  Like any good reporter, we had our Flip camera at hand, and shot this video over the dashboard of our chauffeured SUV.

You’ll note that the fins on the convertible are amongst its most prominent features.  As best we can tell, the security team tailing the Fury is in an early 60’s Oldsmobile Starfire convertible; it may be a 1962.

The good memories came flooding back as we followed the Fury.  Ours had a white top, and the paint was a medium red, lighter than the ‘Candy Apple Red’ popular in those days, and the apparent color on the trailing Olds.

Many will think the the car was a ‘chick magnet,’ but the most fun we had with it was cruising the summer boardwalk scene along the Jersey Shore.

Our particular vehicle was equipped with the Chrysler 300 package, which made it very rare.  We bought it from a fraternity brother in 1962, whose father owned a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, which explains the unique version.  And the fact that the engine had been balanced and blueprinted at the dealership.

It also had an RCA 45 rpm record player mounted upside down under the center of the dashboard.  You took your favorite 45’s and pushed them up onto the spindle.  It was great fun to pull up next to someone else at a stoplight, or in traffic, and have them yell over to you ‘hey, what station are you llistening to?’  Replying that it was  not the radio, but our record player, always elicited double takes and looks that were priceless.  We especially remember playing ‘Big Boy Pete,’ which seemed to get the biggest interest.

The Chrysler 300 package meant the various emblems on the body, and the hubcaps, were all 300 logos.  More important, we had the 383 cubic inch hemi engine with ram induction and dual fours.  And stick shift to get the most from the engine.

She got about 8 miles per gallon, at about 30 cents or so per gallon back then.  Tire technology was not up to the power at our command, and the gentlest tap on the gas pedal, in any gear, would burn rubber, as much as you might want.

We paid $1850 for the car in 1962, with 20,000 miles on it, and after graduation in 1963, drove cross country in it to begin our pursuit of fame and fortune on the left coast.  And as they say, the rest is history.  Untold and undistinguished, but history none-the-less.

God, how we’d love to have that car back.  What an idiot we were for trading it in on a brand new 1964 Corvair for about $350 because we were getting married and needed a more ‘practical’ car.  It had only 40,000 miles on it.

Such is the ill-considered impulsiveness of youth, we suppose.

(Ed. Note: the assertion that we are known as the ‘Brunswick Fury’ is pure poppycock.)

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