The views expressed in any article published in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Joseph Foster or Bob Lupoli.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Amtrak Loses +$800 Million of Food Service

Joe: how can AMTRAK operate in this way? A private business would fire the manager in charge of this food service. Crazy... -Bob

Amtrak lost $800M on cheeseburgers and soda 

Joe Gehrke, Washington Examiner

Taxpayers lost $833 million over the last decade on the food and beverages supplied by Amtrak, which managed to spend $1.70 for every dollar that received in revenue.

“Over the last ten years, these losses have amounted to a staggering $833.8 million,” said Rep.John Mica, R-Fla., in a statement previewing a House hearing today. “It costs passengers $9.50 to buy a cheeseburger on Amtrak, but the cost to taxpayers is $16.15. Riders pay $2.00 for a Pepsi, but each of these sodas costs the U.S. Treasury $3.40.”

"Amazon.com is currently selling 24-packs of 12 ounce Pepsi cans for $8.94 -- which averages to about 75 cents per can."
Amtrak President Joe Boardman tried encourage House investigators by telling them that last year's losses represent an improvement over previous years. "Our ongoing programs have certainly delivered measurable financial efficiencies," Boardman told Congress in his written testimony today. "In 2006, our food and beverage service recovered 49 percent of their costs. In 2011, these services recovered 59 percent of their costs," he testified.
The food service is legally obligated to break even, but Amtrak lost $84 million just last year. “The rail service’s food and beverage operation has 1,234 employees, and taking into account Amtrak’s $84.5 million loss last year, that’s $68, 476 per employee," Mica said.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

California Bullet Train BS

Joe: California will now have a debt payment for the stupid bullet train something like $38M a year - we have to pay this for debt. And yet the speed of the "bullet" is simply not proven and everyone knows it's a lie at this point. See this interesting article below. Hop[efully the King County lawsuit will bring out the truth in more detail. -Bob

Wednesday, Jun 13 2012 12:15 AM
'No document exists' on bullet train's speed, lawsuit claims
BY LANCE WILLIAMS California Watch


California's $68 billion bullet train is supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours and 40 minutes.



That speed -- an average of more than 140 mph, including stops -- is a legal requirement, written into the state voter initiative that gave the project the go-ahead in 2008.

Boosters continued to promise that the train would attain those speeds even after Gov. Jerry Brown cut $30 billion from the project's budget earlier this year, forcing a reconfiguration that seemed likely to slow down the train.

But according to a lawsuit filed by project opponents, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has not done any studies or written reports to verify that the trains actually will go fast enough to follow the law. The suit, filed by the County of Kings Board of Supervisors, quotes a May 31 email from a project official as saying that "no document exists" to verify that the train can meet its travel time deadline.

Instead, the rail authority's promises are backed up by "verbal assertions based on (the) skill, experience and optimism" of project engineers, the rail official wrote in response to a request for public information.

That statement "casts great doubt on the credibility" of the claims the authority is making about the bullet train, Kings County says in the lawsuit, which seeks a court order to cut off state funding for the project. The county claims constructing the rail line will wreck thousands of acres of prime Central Valley farmland.

In a statement, rail authority Chairman Dan Richard said the reconfigured or "blended" project will comply with the law.

"The law requires that the system be designed to achieve speeds of 200 miles per hour and a travel time of two hours and 40 minutes," he said. "We embraced the blended approach based on our experts' determination that the blended system can achieve these goals."

The state attorney general's office has asked a Sacramento judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that opponents have presented no evidence that the rail authority is making illegal expenditures on the project. A hearing on the issue is set for Friday.

Last year, judges tossed two similar lawsuits that sought to have the project stopped on the grounds of illegal or wasteful spending.

In an interview, Michael Brady, lawyer for Kings County, contended that the rail authority has little hope of meeting its travel time requirement.

April, when the governor slashed the project's $98 billion construction budget, the rail authority unveiled the blended rail network plan in which high-speed trains would share tracks with Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula and Amtrak and Metrolink in the Los Angeles basin.

Some rail experts, including advocates of the California project, questioned how bullet train speeds could be maintained.

"All over the state ... they're going to use commuter trains, Caltrain, light rail in Stockton," Brady said. "You're not going to be able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six hours."

That would violate state law. But if the train is too slow, the project is doomed anyway, many experts say, because most passengers will buy a plane ticket instead.

In discussing the revised plan, Richard has been emphatic that the train will achieve the speeds the law requires. In a presentation in April in Fresno, he said: "The reason we are confident the blended-approach system, which costs $30 billion less, can work is that our engineers have told us it will achieve the performance standards the voters insisted on in the ballot measure.

"And so that means trains that can go from Los Angeles Union Station to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes. ...

"This plan will achieve those standards."

After that, Kathy Hamilton of the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, a San Francisco Peninsula group that opposes the project, said she filed a Public Records Act request for the data underlying Richard's claim.

There wasn't any, she was told.

In an email, rail official Kyle Wunderli wrote: "I have an answer on your request for some documented proof of the assertions the engineers made to Dan Richard. The answer is that no document exists. These were verbal assertions based on skill, experience, and optimism and so Dan Richard went with the expertise of the engineers offering these assertions."

Train speeds are among the most important aspects of the project, Kings County lawyer Brady said. It "makes them look ridiculous" to base their claims about train speeds on the engineers' optimism, he said.

Brady said he suspected that there is no written material on the topic because it's simply not possible for the reconfigured train to go fast enough to comply with the law. It would be illegal for the state to spend money on the project if that's the case, he contends.

This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state's high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.

Local Politicians - Bankrupt California

Officials’ foolishness slams cities

July 23, 2012
By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — First, Vallejo, in 2008. Next, Stockton, then Mammoth Lakes and, now, San Bernardino and soon, perhaps, Compton. As Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach told Bloomberg News, the bankruptcy dominoes are starting to fall. One California city after another – following a decade-long spree of ramping up public-employee pay and pension benefits, as well as redevelopment debt – are becoming insolvent.

And the state’s legislators have nothing constructive to offer.

California’s exclusively Democratic leaders not only are unwilling to rein in the costs of benefits for their patrons, the public-sector unions, they have been erecting roadblocks in the paths of localities that want to fix the problem on their own. Yet all the political hurdles in the world cannot fix the basic problem of insolvency.

Stockton navigated the new process created by a state law requiring a 60-day period of negotiations before a municipality could file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

That period is over, and the city – a hard-pressed port on the edge of the California Delta – has become the largest city in the country to pursue municipal bankruptcy. The cause was a pension system eating up 30 percent of the budget, an absurdly generous retiree medical program and excess bond debt for pension obligations and redevelopment projects.

Soon after, Mammoth Lakes decided to pursue bankruptcy. That city’s cash crunch resulted from losing a lawsuit over development. Although not tied to public-employee compensation, the situation was caused by city officials who preferred to play developer rather than tend to the nuts-and-bolts duties of city government – a long-term problem in that eastern Sierra vacation town. In 1996, Mammoth Lakes lost a court case after it declared its downtown area blighted because of excess urbanization, in a ruling the judge said exemplified the misuse of redevelopment power.

San Berdoo bankrupt
The latest city to opt for bankruptcy is San Bernardino, which has declared a fiscal emergency. That step allows it to evade the mediation period mandated by state law. The city simply doesn’t have the cash to keep operating. As Bloomberg reported, “San Bernardino and its agencies have more than $220 million of debt, including $48.6 million of taxable pension-obligation bonds, according to financial statements.” Pension-obligation bonds are used by cities to pay ongoing pension expenses, yet San Bernardino’s problems show that a city cannot borrow its way out of debt.

Other big cities, including Los Angeles, are talking more openly about the bankruptcy option. Not long ago critics who mentioned the B-word were considered Chicken Littles.

A current talking point is that these cities couldn’t control what happened to them. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported: “The city of San Bernardino’s financial woes are a direct correlation to a torrent of foreclosures in the Inland area of Southern California, the national foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac said Thursday. ‘Property taxes plunged in San Bernardino because of an avalanche of foreclosure activity during the recent housing bust,’ said RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist
Housing Bubble
There’s no doubt San Bernardino and Stockton – ground zero for the subprime mortgage crisis – suffered from the problem described above. But, during the housing bubble that built for years before the crash, what did those cities do with the resulting surge in property tax revenue? We know – they squandered it on increased compensation for government employees, on redevelopment projects and other questionable spending. They squandered a windfall and now depict themselves as victims of circumstance.

The real culprit is foolish decision-making. Stockton, for instance, refused to take advantage of an exemption in prevailing-wage laws – a strategy that could have saved it money but would have angered the powerful unions.

The housing bubble hit the hardest in cities inland from the growth-controlled major metropolitan areas. When housing prices went up in Los Angeles and San Francisco, developers moved inland, where it was easier to get the permits necessary to respond to the demands of the marketplace.

Coastal cities
But even coastal cities are struggling. Los Angeles is not a victim of the foreclosure crisis. Pension costs in San Jose – where the housing market has rebounded thanks to a healthy tech-based economy – rose 350 percent in 10 years and now consume 20 percent of the general-fund budget. San Jose voters approved a pension reform measure last month to stem the fiscal bleeding.

Joe Mathews, writing for the Prop Zero blog, debunks San Bernardino leaders’ allegations blaming the state for the city’s its fiscal problems: “Local elected officials who complain about a lack of state money have things backwards. The state of California is relatively spare in its spending, compared to national averages. California’s local officials are, by contrast, big spenders, at or near the national lead in compensation for local workers, especially law enforcement.

Mathews misses a big point – California state government spends its money poorly – but he is right about local-government wastrels, who busted the bank on public-safety pay and benefit packages and now are looking to cast blame anywhere they can.

Bankruptcy is not a great option but, at least, it gives cities a chance to get their house in order and start fresh. Unfortunately, Vallejo and Stockton refused to tackle existing pension debt in their bankruptcy reorganization plans. Orange County emerged from bankruptcy in the 1990s in better shape than ever, but, as writer Chris Reed explained on the website Calwatchdog.com, subsequent boards of supervisors then began spending like crazy on public-sector compensation.

Bankruptcy cannot stop future officials from wasting tax dollars. But when there’s no money, there’s nothing left to do. In Scranton, Pa., a judge issued an injunction to stop the mayor’s plan to begin paying all city employees minimum wage. But there’s no money left to pay any more than that, the mayor said. The city gladly will pay more as soon as it has the cash.

Only when the money runs out will cities find the necessary solutions.

That’s perhaps the saddest commentary on the situation in California cities these days.




Friday, April 6, 2012

The Corporate Job Creation Myth

Joe:  please this article below, her view is similar to your. -Bob

The corporate job creator myth

Unregulated corporations don't put Americans back to work. They off-shore jobs, cut wages and lay people off


This originally appeared on AlterNet. It's the fourth essay in a five-part series analyzing the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

For the last four decades, U.S. corporations have been sinking our economy through the off-shoring of jobs, the squeezing of wages, and a magician’s hat full of bluffs and tricks designed to extort subsidies and sweetheart deals from local and state governments that often result in mass layoffs and empty treasuries.

We keep hearing that corporations would put Americans back to work if they could just get rid of all those pesky encumbrances – things like taxes, safety regulations and unions. But what happens when we buy that line? The more we let the corporations run wild, the worse things get for the 99 percent and the scarcer the solid jobs seem to be.

Yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants us to think that corporations – preferably unregulated! – are the patriotic job creators in our economy. They want us to think it so much that in 2009, after the financial crash, they launched a $100 million campaign, which, among other things, draped their Washington, DC building with an enormous banner proclaiming “Jobs: Brought to you by the free market system.”

But the truth is that unfettered corporations are just about the worst thing for creating decent jobs. Here’s a look at why, and where the good jobs really come from.

Taming the Wild Horses
Corporations are kind of like wild horses. They can run you down. Or sweep you around in circles till you’re exhausted. And in today’s world, they’ll surely run off and take your jobs to China or someplace else if you don’t learn how to tame them.

Bad things happen when corporations are unconstrained by strong national policies that force players to think long term, behave decentlyand refrain from dumping their short-term costs on the rest of us. They tend to focus single-mindedly on maximizing profits for shareholders at the expense of all else – including jobs. Executives set their sights on a path to short-term boosts in share prices paved with layoffs, wage cuts and jobs moved overseas, while slashing research and development and investing in the skills of their employees.

The U.S. Department of Commerce found that from 2000 to 2009, U.S. transnational corporations, which employ about 20 percent of all American workers, cut their domestic employment by 2.9 million even as they boosted their overseas workforce by 2.4 million. The result was an enormous loss of jobs nationally, as well as a net loss globally.

In the 1990s, these companies added more jobs at home than abroad. What changed? 1) The rise of India and China, with 37 percent of the world’s population, as hotspots for off-shoring; and 2) the availability of tens of millions of workers in these places, many with college degrees, to do the jobs previously done by American workers.

In India, indigenous companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro along with transnationals like IBM, HP and Accenture, employ hundreds of thousands of college-educated workers to perform IT services, in large part for American firms. In China, the electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn (headquartered in Taiwan) barely existed a decade ago, but now employs about 1.2 million workers, with Apple its single biggest customer.

And yet Big Business still trumpets itself as the American Job Creator Fairy. Apple has released a report claiming to have created half a million domestic jobs – a highly dubious number which takes credit for everything from the app industry to FedEx delivery jobs (never mind that drivers would be hauling someone else’s gadgets if Apple went out of business). It’s true that in the U.S. managers, engineers and other professionals have found good jobs at Apple. But the non-professional employees are just barely scraping by. A study of the iPod value chain in 2006 calculated that among Apple’s domestic employees, professionals earned around $85,000, not counting stock options, but the retail workers in Apple’s stores earned only $26,000. This is troubling because as Apple has grown in size, most of the employees it has hired in the U.S. work in retail. Are these jobs paths to long-term, stable careers? Quite likely they are not.

While a company like Apple whistles “God Bless America,” executives are not going to talk about the job losses induced by off-shoring, nor the horrifically abused foreign workforce that moving jobs to China has produced. And they’re not going to tell us about Apple’s preference for hiring part-time employees who can’t afford to buy health insurance. When such uninsured people have health emergencies, someone has to pay and the burden falls on the taxpayers.

Here is what Apple executives tell us instead: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

The Real Deal
Corporate executives have lost the sense that they owe anything to the public. They have forgotten that the 99 percent, as taxpayers, have made huge investments in them. They fight to lower taxes as if all the money “belongs” to the companies. They fight regulations as if the public doesn’t have the right to interfere in their business.

All nonsense.

Despite the anti-government rhetoric from conservative leaders, the truth is that the government, elected by the people, plays a critical role in creating the conditions in which companies can succeed and good jobs can flourish. The government is able to invest in human capital through key services like education. What’s the point of a job if you don’t have an educated worker to fill it? The government also creates job-friendly conditions by investing in infrastructure. How can you get to work if your roads and bridges are falling apart? And it boosts job creation through investing in technology. How could Google create its amazing search engine without state investment in the creation of the Internet? When the government invests in the knowledge infrastructure, businesses can then employ and train people who can, in turn, engage in the kind of organizational learning that leads to that wondrous thing called “innovation.”

We learned this once before. After Wall Street financiers ran amok to cause the Great Depression in the 1930s, the government responded by putting in place regulations on banks and corporations, a highly progressive tax system and a robust social safety net. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the conditions in which good jobs were possible with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and other New Deal initiatives. He focused on the development of highways, railways, airports and parks, investing in the future rather than focusing solely on short-term profits. The GI Bill, rather than leaving graduates with big debts, left them well educated and therefore with a chance of to provide a middle-class life for their families and to retire with dignity.

After victory in World War II, America was able to emerge as the world’s most powerful nation because it had a large middle-class and a strong industrial and technological base. The horses of Big Business were tamed, and they could be harnessed to do useful things for society. Then came the Reagan Revolution and Big Business freed itself from the regulations, unions and taxes that had curbed its worst instincts and it began to shred the nation’s economic and social safety net. The gap in income inequality grew, and jobs were eliminated and outsourced. Long-term investment in innovation and human capital slowed down, while fraud and financial speculation took off.

Today, corporate executives ask for more special treatment and freer rein in calling the shots in our economy, and they threaten to pack their bags if we don’t agree. Some politicians and policy makers respond to this blackmail by saying that we have to create a “friendly business climate” to convince them to stay. But what makes a “friendly business climate”–low wages, minimal taxes and so on — creates a very hostile climate for the 99 percent, which is ultimately bad for everyone – business included. The state of Mississippi and Rick Perry’s Texas, where city and state officials bent over backwards to lure Big Business with subsidies and other perks, are hardly bursting with good jobs.

Many researchers have concluded that tax rates are actually not terribly important to where a company locates. Further, a common rule of thumb for business headquarters location is that quality of life for key personnel is decisive. True, vastly different levels of regulation in the U.S. and China is a problem for which there are no easy answers. But there are real costs to ignoring the environment and keeping workers in a state of misery. If you want job growth, you have to have demand growth: profits and consumption go hand in hand.

That’s why the best way to unleash America’s job-creating potential is to support rights and protections for ordinary people. A climate friendly to the 99 percent is not just fair, it makes the best sense for the economy. We need to remember the complementary roles that government and business have to play in creating well-paid, stable employment opportunities and then ensuring that people can access these opportunities over the course of their careers. To get corporations working for the 99 percent on the job front, we have three major challenges:

1) Education: Young people from low-income groups (especially blacks and Hispanics) need schooling and training to move to good career jobs.
2) Incentives: Corporations must have incentives to retain educated and experienced workers instead of laying them off or off-shoring their jobs. (To do so forces valuable workers into low-skill jobs and wastes their human capital, which was expensive to acquire.)
3) Investment: Executives of financialized corporations who want the government to invest in the knowledge base have to make complementary investments in people that can keep the U.S. economy innovative and generate good jobs. That would mean changing the single-minded focus on boosting company stock prices through buybacks and other financial manipulations that serve the 1 percent but no one else.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is co-founder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.