Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spending more than you make hits government

Re-Post. I posted this back in 2009. In light of the activity coming out of Madison Wisconsin currently I thought it was worthy of a revisit.

A lot of us all around this country of ours are feeling a smack on the head by that man who discovered gravity. I know we are here in Tallahassee and around the state of Florida. I believe that the old failings of mankind are at play. A lot of folks want to be Aesop's grasshopper and play the fiddle and smoke a little hoppergrass and ignore the hard working ants who are putting it away for a rainy day.

I got into real estate in 2002. That was my first year. Man, to apply robust to describe the market would be like describing water as wet. It was up, up and away for all players: buyers, sellers, lenders, realtors and government. Here in the state of Florida our property taxes flew off the chart increasing 100% in 5 years. Property values just floated that tax to injurious levels. Some smart folks put together the Save Our Homes regulations, capping taxes for permanent residents at no more than 3% per year. However, if you sold your home and moved up your taxes could knock you unconscious. I had a very successful client who sold his $400k home and moved to a $1,200k home. His property taxes went from around $3700 per year to almost $10,000 per year. As I said he was successful and able to take that hit but he did not like it. Others of us, less successful, applied the Save Our Homes acronym of SOH to Stay in Our Homes .

Now where did all that money go? It went into the vaults of various cities and municipalities across our state. The coffers were running over. Week after week county commissions and town councils would convene and plan how to spend all that lucre. Where was it written that, that had to be the case? Who said you had to spend all that loot?

Snap forward a few years and you see a Governor get elected in Florida who made a campaign promise based on property tax reform. He has made good his promise. This reform coincided with the bursting of the real estate bubble. Both effects have been synergistic. The one potentiates the other.

Now here we are. Cities and municipalities decry the depletion of funds. The state of Florida's 2009 budget is sure to be the leanest in many years. You see and hear every day about school Districts that can't make their budgets work. Cities say they may have to lay off workers. What ???? The sun is suddenly coming up in the west ! Used to be if you could land a job with the state government, you were set for life. We had a former Governor who referred to such people as lard bricks. ( His term, not mine ). They just went to an office and sat their and put in their time and one day retired and collected their pension. What a country !!

Once again, Sir Isaac Newton's law of physics reminds us that " What goes up, must come down." We also glean the genius of Aesop who taught us that it is best to put away during the plentiful years for the, sure to follow, lean years.

Our current circumstances will improve one day. That grasshopper will play his fiddle again and the circle of economic life will continue on. Sure is not fun to watch it, nor experience it.

Affinity Fraud

I read about a state legislator who was introducing a piece of legislation that would give some teeth to prosecuting people who commit affinity fraud. Now what in the world is affinity fraud? Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Affinity fraud includes investment frauds that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, language minorities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster's ruse.

These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, it can be difficult for regulators or law enforcement officials to detect an affinity scam. Victims often fail to notify authorities or pursue their legal remedies, and instead try to work things out within the group. This is particularly true where the fraudsters have used respected community or religious leaders to convince others to join the investment.

Many affinity scams involve "Ponzi schemes" or pyramid schemes, where new investor money is used to make payments to earlier investors to give the illusion that the investment is successful. This ploy is used to trick new investors to invest in the scheme and to lull existing investors into believing their investments are safe and secure. In reality, the fraudster almost always steals investor money for personal use. Both types of schemes depend on an unending supply of new investors; when the inevitable occurs, and the supply of investors dries up, the whole scheme collapses and investors discover that most or all of their money is gone.

I think back over my years of experience and I isolate a few close calls with affinity fraud. I remember sitting in a lounge in Montgomery Alabama back in 1971'ish. I was waiting on a cocktail waitress I dated to get off work. Just sitting there by myself and this guy sits down beside me and strikes up a conversation. After answering a few questions he posed he says to a friend of his at the bar,
" Hey Fred come over here and meet Lee Vass. He seems like a great guy and I think he will fit into our business plans quite well." I was advised that they were loading up a bus to go to Atlanta for a weekend rally. I was invited on their nickel. It was my first exposure to a man named Glen Turner. He was the grand daddy of the pyramid schemes. I counted myself fortunate that I forewent the invitation electing to go on the date I had already planned.

Several years later I remember getting a call from a church leader who presided over a group of around 10,000 of us members of his church. He told me that he was putting together a new start up business called the Small Business Institute. I told him that I represented a Fortune 400 company thusly I represented big business. Why would I want to join a small business institute? He called me several times and only wanted $5k to help him get it going. I forewent that opportuntiy and he went on to swindle several people in that congregation. He disappeared in the middle of the night and probably should have gone to prison. Last I heard he was still scott free and off trying to swindle a new group of people who regarded him as an inspired church leader who wanted to help them get rich.

Then there was Jim Jones the guy who moved an entire congregation of adherents to Gianna. They gave him everything they had and he showed his appreciation to them by lacing a supply of Koolaid with cyanide and killing most if not all of them, including women and children. This was back in the mid-80's. A term that we use nowadays comes from that scanario " Drinking the Koolaid."

We need to proceed with caution about anything that sounds too good to be true. If it does, check it out and don't do anything until you have done some serious due diligence in getting the big picture. Make sure that you don't end up drinking the koolaid.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Baggy Pants Bill

I have been intrigued for some time by the popularity of wearing ones oversized trousers in such a fashion as to expose your underwear. Senator Gary Siplin (D) a state senator here in Florida has decided to legislate against this peculiar taste in fashion. Why would someone choose to wear their pants mid thigh and go out in public? Is it choose one.

Recent weight loss?
Theft of your belt or suspenders?
Hand me downs from 300 pound cousin?
Pride in your spider man boxers?
Just a simple form of rebellion?

I don't know what the reason is but I would wager my money on #5. It sort of goes along with a 70 year old man ( or woman) with tatoos in wierd places. Tongue rings. Nipple rings. Belly button rings. Nose rings. Etc.

I go back to an earlier post rendering the following opinion. I believe that if we were to legislate that anyone with an IQ of below 100 advertise the fact by wearing a badge that states that they are an idiot the ACLU would go ballistic.

However people voluntarily wear their pants down around their knees to advertise that fact. When we see them coming towards us on the sidewalk we can step to the other side of the street to avoid breathing any infectious exudate from their nostrils. We are, therefore, very fortunate that people so advertise their moronic tendencies.

What other plausible explanation is their for such an odd expression of fashion choice? I have a friend who says that the trend comes from the prison population. I will let you connect the dots on that sequential logic. That ain't a pretty thought.

Why don't people wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes? Or better yet on their heads? Now that would be a serious fashion statement. Believe or not there are many people who choose to wear no underwear at all. Britany Spears comes to mind. We all know that there are some big hairy bats flying around in that belfry.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Worthy of recommendation

Throughout my life I have had various people approach me asking for assistance in obtaining employment. I am usually forthcoming with any assistance that I can proffer even if it is only mentoring in a very general form. I have done this many hundreds of times over the years. I think I have had only a handful of people ever offer even a small thank you for such assistance.

I helped a man once who was down on his luck, I had a contact that I shared with him. The man got the job because of my intervention. He went to work the very next week.

Do you think that I ever got a thank you? Not only did I not get a thank you, the man worked about 4 months or less and then quit the job to go chase something else. He has subsequently gone through dozens of jobs .

This man had not been worthy of my recommendation. The fact that I recommended him put my reputation on the line. The contact I had used was one that I had developed in my lobbying activity. Since I made my living as a government affairs manager, lobbyist it ended up hurting me.

Did I learn my lesson? No not hardly. I got a call at my desk long ago from a pretty high up government official who told me that he was looking at a resume' of a man who put me down as a personal reference. I actually really did not know the man very well. I attended a club with him that we had in common. However, I had a nice relationship with him over lunch and liked his sense of humor and friendly attitude. So I gave him high marks and he was hired.

I later learned that the person had a few screws loose. He ended up being dismissed from the agency he worked for and he later filed a law suit that was settled out of court I do believe. What do you think my reputation ended up being in the mind of this agency head?

Subsequently when I get people approaching me about helping them with employment I am very wary. I do not attach a personal recommendation to anyone that I do not know pretty well. You have to prove yourself worthy of recommendation. Nowadays when someone calls me about someone that I do not know well and wants me to recommend them I always tell them I am sorry but I do not know that person well enough to recommend them.

Also, when someone provides you the least amount of assistance in pursuing a job or appointment or any other form of personal recommendation, make sure you that have earned some degree of worthiness of their recommendation.

Oh and lastly, write anyone who sticks their neck out for you an e-mail or thank you note, thanking them for their willingness to help you. Even if you do not get the leg up that you sought. That is an absolute minimum requirement of good form.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Papa was a Rolling Stone

There was an interesting piece in the paper this morning the timber of which was for the most part doom and gloom for Florida. The piece was written by Dave Hodges and was centered on a Sunshine State Survey, devised by USF professor Susan McManus. 1220 Floridians were surveyed 45% of whom said that we Floridians were worse off than we were one year ago. 52% identified the economy as our overall greatest concern. 55% said that the state was doing a poor job of creating new jobs. 75% said that the government was doing a poor job placing blame on our elected officials. Nearly 25% of Floridians were considering leaving the state.

I guess my question is if you leave, where on earth are you going to go? Florida is doing poorly because the nation is doing poorly. Remember that the backbone of Florida's economy has for a long, long time been tourism. Most of us did not need professor McManus to discover that for us. Think about this. We do not have a state income tax. How many states can say that? If you leave Tallahassee and drive north 30miles and live in Cairo, GA then abra cadabra you get to pay an additional 6% to the state of Georgia out of your paycheck. If you make $50k a year then you are out $3000just by moving 30 miles away.

When I was being raised, I had lived at 16 addresses by the time I was 18 years of age. The old Tempatations said it about as well as it could be uttered in their song, Papa was a rolling stone. I can tell you the answer is not in moving around. I cannot think of a single move that solved any problems for my clan. I moved to Tallahassee in 1972. I have had 4 addresses since the time I married in 1973. We have had the same address for the last 20 years and before that 16 at the same address.

I served on a task force in the mid '90s as invited by the Governor's office through Enterprise Florida. I met half a dozen times in some nice areas across the state. The gist of this endeavor was to brain storm what industry and academia could do to foster job growth in Florida. I represented a Fortune 400 company ergo Big Business.

I ultimately found that the outcomes of this task force were pretty much set before meetings began. Most at the table represented the brain trust of various universities. Researchers were looking to synergize resources surrounding some discovery that they had made in a lab from UF, USF, Nova, FSU. You get the picture. The effort ultimately ended up in the creation of the Scripps endeavour on the I-4 corridor. The task force was not terribly interested in attracting industry to the state via tax concessions, etc. Tallahassee has often been a great example of that mentality.

I remember years ago that the Miller brewing company was looking to bring a bottling plant to either Tallahassee or Albany, GA. Albany ended up getting the plant because Tallahassee was really quite lukewarm about laying their ears back and aggressively luring that company. Incidentally, that plant brought 5,000 jobs to Albany. Good jobs. I remember I had 2 or 3 clients I called on back then who were pharmacists. They quit pharmacy and went over and got a job at the new plant because it was a better deal for them.

Florida has come to this point in their economy due to becoming fat and complacent because we have always had money coming in through the pockets of out of towners. Property taxes have been the gold rush of the '90s. Property taxes went up 100% during the mid-90's in 5 years. Tallahassee has led the charge. On the comparative scale, Leon county is one of the most expensive places in this state to live.

Take a look at the economy of let's just say Utah for example. They have actually grown their economy during the recession. Illinois is another example. The reason? I would say the response is growing where you are planted and being creative and industrious.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Capital punishment a yea or a nay?

We are embroiled in a capital trial here in Tallahassee. The accused is a man named Hilton who allegedly killed and decapitated a nurse from Crawfordville named Cheryl Dunlap around Christmas three years ago. Hilton has already been found guilty in Georgia for the decapitation murder of a young lady hiker and sentenced to life in prison there. He was extradited here to stand trial for Dunlap's murder to apply the rule of law, provide closure for the victim's family and, in that Florida still has the death penalty, pay for his crime with his own life.

So the debate continues on concerning should government via it's judiciary be in the business of applying the Mosaic law of " an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" ?
As an aside, I wonder just how far the Mosaic law is from Shiria law in that realm. Under Shiria law, it is my understanding that a woman may be stoned to death for committing adultery. That is a big time " Whatttttttttt?" on my radar screen. They ain't enough rocks in America to keep up with that death sentence as adultery is as common as drinking water.

However, back to the capital punishment debate. In my past I have held the personal belief that capital punishment should be a part of our system. It is an effective deterrent in my mind. If for no other reason it deters mass murderers from recommiting the same crime. What about the rights of the deceased to have justice applied? Where there is overwhelming evidence that the accused perpetrated the dastardly deed does not the punishment match the criminal act?

I then read a book by John Grisham, called The Chamber , and another entitled The Innocent Man. They both had at their core the capital punishment debate. One was a saga of a grandson of a member of the KKK on death row for a bombing of a southern church where little girls were killed. The other was a man who served 20 years in prison lots, of it on death row, until proven innocent. They softened me up a little on capital punishment. However, I, who has extreme claustophobia and panic disorder, would prefer to be gone than to have to spend the rest of my life in a cage.

I just read an op ed by Sandy D'Alemberte whose name I never could spell correctly. He used to be the president of FSU and is a very bright and wise JD. It was just published this past Sunday in our local muckraker newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. He calls into question the wisdom in retrying Hilton for a crime for which he has been sentenced to life in prison up in Georgia. In these hard economic times why should Florida citizens have to bear that expense? Another juris doctorate answered his query in this morning's edition of the fish gut wrapper, Democrat. He basically said that a criminal should not be allowed to manipulate the system to his benefit. To wit, Hilton confessed to the crime in Georgia so as to avoid prosecution in Florida and risk having his own head sawed off with a serrated hunting knife by a state paid assassin. Of course his victims did not have a choice in that regard in that he acted as judge, jury and executioner in each heinous act of lunacy.

I cannot help but reflect back over the years. I remember picking up the newspaper in my front yard back in January of 1978 and reading the blood chilling account of the Chi Omega murders. We were all touched by this maniac over the years in just staring at him as you would a two headed mountain goat at the county fair. You were disgusted at his depravity but we were drawn to the account of this looney tune as it played out in the written and electronic media. They even made a movie about Ted Bundy and someone wrote a book. Heck, some freako even married him and had a child by him through the benefit of conjugal visits while he was in prison.

I used to be in the pharmaceuticals business. For a period of time I called on Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. I used to go back into the forensic unit and speak with the psychiatrists back there in that hell hole. That is where they keep the people who killed their grandmother for turning off the TV in the middle of a Tom and Jerry cartoon and then grinding her into sausage. They were adjudged to be too crazy to stand trial and placed in the forensic unit at Florida State Hospital (FSH). I would walk by the doors where they kept the Freddie Kreugers of our world and the screams and epithets you heard would make your hair stand on end. If there is a such a place on earth where demonic spirits rule, I would nominate that place as spook central.

Anyway on one particular day I was in to visit my friend and client Dr. Carmencita Mola, psychiatrist. There was quite a buzz ensuing amongst the staff. I asked her what was up and she told me that Ted Bundy was coming to their facility for a few days. I asked for what purpose. The answer is almost laughable. You see, he was sitting on death row after having been sentenced to death in Lake City for the rape and murder of Kimberly Diane Leach. All the pleas had played out and it was pretty certain that Teddy was going to fry. Now ( you are not ready for this ) the state of Florida was postured to kill him in a few short months. He was in FSH to receieve counseling to help him deal with the fact that the people who were paying for this counseling were going to kill him. I wonder how much "counseling" he gave the 36 to 136 people whom he killed prior to bludgeoning them?

Incidentally, I had a close friend, Alex, who was an assistant state attorney in Lake City. I would see him pretty frequently and we would go to lunch. It was his task to bring evidence to the table to help prosecute Bundy. He interviewed him face to face. He told me two things that remain with me to this day. One was that being in the presence of Bundy was like looking into the eyes of Satan. Secondly, Alex had a little 12 year old daughter. He told me that reviewing the evidence of the murder kept him awake at night. He was a pretty tough old state attorney and the evidence was so horrible it kept him awake.

I knew two people who were in law school with Bundy at University of Utah. My son dated a girl in college whose father had been the policeman who had arrested him in west Florida. All said what a sociopathic human being he seemed to be.

To end my recollections about Bundy who assumed room temperature 22 years ago I have to put you on an airplane heading to Tampa. Halfway there the captain came on the PA and announced that Ted Bundy had just been executed. There was spontaneous applause that occurred throughout the cabin. I am not going to tell you whether or not I joined in. I do remember staring out at the ground below reflecting long and hard for the rest of the trip on the role of the death penalty in our judicial system.

I think if I were a relative or friend of Cheryl Dunlap I might want to reserve a front row center seat to witness Mr. Hilton take his last breath somewhere down the road. If it had been my wife or daughter he had taken and killed I would pray for 2-3minutes alone with him in a room. I suppose that capital punishment must have a stronghold in our primieval identity.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The right to petition government

I had an interesting aside with a person this week about my former role in life as a lobbyist. Their take was that it was a very cloaked and nefarious role in society. I explained that one of the rights installed into the US Constitution was a right to petition our government. You can see the tea party movement as a mass lobbying effort in sending the message that Americans are a bit put out over the direction of our country and the general perfomance of our electorate. The results have been newsworthy as there have been more than one career politician who spat in the face of the teapartiers and was sent packing.

I read a book provided to me by a very bright friend when I was first appointed as the guy who directed lobbying for the firm I worked for. It was called The Third House. It was a history of lobbying in the Florida Legislature over about a fifty year history. The obvious emphasis was that there was the senate, the house and the lobbying corps. The fact is that the third house is effective and strong and a force to be reckoned with.

Examples are the National Rifle Association, National Education Association, American Medical Association, United Auto Workers, American Heart Association, Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers Association, American Trial Lawyers. The list goes on and on. They influence legislation and regulation and generally watch the back pockets of the interests of their membership. One small little piece of legislation can have devastating effects on business interests. One interpretation of a law and the implementation of regulation by a local or state adminstrative board can lay a company low.

Do yourself a favor and look up You will see on that website a link to all the registered lobbyists that will camp out as the Florida legislature moves into session. They will number into the thousands. As we progress through the session you will see various ads in print and in the broadcast media advising you that so and so wants to take away your right to have your nose tickled by a feather. If you are concerned about that then call your legislator immediately. Those are ads that are put together in grassroots, coalition building venues to influence outcomes. They are paid for by private interests who stand to have their back pockets hit if a piece of legislation becomes law.

Right or wrong that is just the way it is. The framers of our constitution knew that process would be necessary and preserved it for us in language that assures the people the right to petition their government. If you move to Iran or elsewhere you could have your tongue removed for speaking ill of the dictator dujour. Here in America that right is a small part of what makes this republic of ours work