Is Brooklyn Bridge Falling Down?

You would think that the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota would be reason enough for all of America to begin addressing their infrastructure problems immediately.

Not so fast my friend.

The latest inspection of Brooklyn Bridge resulted in a rating of 2.9…on a scale from 1-7! That was a barely passing grade, and thus just “good enough” to not result in closing down one of the nation’s most famous bridges for at least another 2 years.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel the same way about walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as I would have prior to becoming aware of its 2.9 rating. With such a poor rating, how could anyone? And yet, the government still doesn’t seem to want to take the appropriate measures to ensure New York City’s resident commuters that this 124 year old bridge is completely safe.

With reports that the Brooklyn Bridge has structural, design or maintenance problems, the government is still reluctant to raise the money to take care of it. But it’s not just a local issue, the city’s government is only taking its orders from the federal sentiment. Bush actually dismissed the idea of raising the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs, and yet most infrastructure specialist say that such revenue is required if we are to stop living in danger of even more damage.

Despite Bush’s dismissal of raising taxes, the Brooklyn Bridge is still scheduled for repairs in 2009; a project that is supposedly going to be federally funded. However, it’s a pretty popular opinion that the money for such a task will not exist with out a raise in taxes.

Sometimes I just don’t understand the social contract that this government has with its people. The idea that we give up a completely free way of life for the betterment of all, the protection of this nation’s people and an overall better life for civilization is starting to wear thin.

Politics is weighing down the social contract, and the paper is about to break into pieces. And until the government starts putting our lives before re-election, our bridges might be next in line for falling apart.

Madame May I: Yes, You May

Wow! That must be one serious list of names.

On July 5th, a US District Court Judge in Washington D.C. lifted the restraining order on the DC Madam’s list of phone records. Thereby, DC Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, is free to sell, distribute, publish or sell her phone records from her escort business in the nation’s capitol.

I never really understood how on Earth they were able to put any type of restraining order on the phone records. Afterall, she hasn’t been convicted of anything. But that’s the problem with our legal system, we say no one is guilty until proven so, but when one’s innocence is a detriment to our own beliefs and causes, we say to hell with justice.

Why would there ever be an order to stop someone from sharing their own private records when the person is not yet proven guilty. I understand the legality of the issue, where the sharing of said information could be a distraction to the case. But so what? Does public knowledge of the information effect the judicial process? Does it change the veracity of the documents and the facts? No. So to put a restraining order on Palfrey’s phone records is nothing but a biased attempt to save the ass of those prosecuting her.

Freezing one’s property or assets requires that their be some extraordinary circumstances, and those just aren’t evident in Palfrey’s case. The government actually raided her property and did not take the records, which leads me to believe that they were never that important… that is, not until some important people on that list made getting those records a matter of importance.

Is it wrong to scream conspiracy? Maybe, especially when there is very little proof of it. But what else am I supposed to think? There’s no reason to keep the D.C. Madame’s records secret, especially when everyone wants to see them. There’s no reason that a major broadcasting channel (ABC) chose not to broadcast the list (after attaining it) right before it was set to do so, in an act that would have made them millions of dollars.

I rarely believe in conspiracy theories. But damn! When a conspiracy theory comes a calling, you answer the phone like a Congressman waiting for a call from the D.C. Madame.

Forget NYC 2030, What About SanFran ’07?

Well San Francisco did it again. They beat New York at its own game. With NYC 2030 in the works, San Francisco shows Mayor Bloomberg and all of New York that they won’t wait until 2030 to start saving the planet.

San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom has said no to bottle water. Citing that bottled water is a burden on the city and on the environment, Mayor Newsom has issued an executive order banning all city departments from purchasing bottled water, effective July 1st. As of December 1st, 2007, they can’t even buy bottled water for water coolers.

As you know, plastic is like the Terminator, it’ll always be back. In fact, it never goes away. Plastic doesn’t deteriorate, and thus disposing of it is a very expensive process. From the making of plastic, transporting it and disposing of it, plastic is just a strain on the environment. By Mayor Newsom getting rid of plastic in San Francisco, there environment will be just that much better. Over a billion plastic bottles go to California’s landfills each year.

Have you seen the commercial where the team of business people is on a mountain lift tow and their cart gets stuck in mid air, hundreds of feet above the ground? One guy starts yammering about how if everyone should think good thoughts and the lift will just to work itself out in a matter of time. Of course nothing happens. And then one of the other guys finds an emergency start button, and it works.

Well, Mayor Newsom pressed the emergency start button, and Mayor Bloomberg apparently likes to think good thoughts. And while I applaud the idea of NYC 2030, I would much rather see NYC 2007, and then NYC 2008, and then NYC 2009. I know governments and businesses like to see the big picture and look years down the road, but if we don’t start taking care of the environment now, there might not be an NYC to save in 2015, 2020 or 2030.

Gas and Energy on the Rise

Well, here we go again. Another month and another rise in the Consumer Price Index. It rose 0.7% in May, along with the Core Rate of Inflation going up 0.1%. And while the Core Rate really didn’t rise that much, it’s still pretty indicative of the rising prices in America, in that it doesn’t take into account food and energy, which are the significant factors in the rise within the Consumer Price Index.

With food and energy (i.e. gas) prices going up, that meant many nonmanagement employees had to take pay cuts. This caused the average weekly earnings for this group to fall for the second straight month.

So this is great, huh? Food and gas are going up, and earnings are going down. This would all make sense if we lived in a Bizzaro economy.

What it’s basically coming down to is that people can’t afford to do and buy other things. Afterall, people have to eat and they have to go to work. And in places and societies where stealing food and walking to work aren’t options, people are going to fork over the money they need to do those two things.

It would be nice if the Federal government would lower interest rates, but the small increase in the Core Rate will give them just enough reason to not have to do that. This means that the people on Wall Street will continue to celebrate, while the banks join along in harmonious song titled, “I’m Collecting All Your Money.”

A lot of the inflation, which annualized at 2.7% in May, can be attributed to housing cost. Paying the gas bill is obviously a large part of that, and the 3-5% increases in beef, poultry and pork aren’t helping consumer costs either. So what will the government do?

Nothing. Not yet. Obviously, it’s too early to say whether inflation is or is not an issue in the market, and so the government can’t really fix this one. At least not as long as an increase in food and energy costs don’t spill over into other parts of the economy. So the government will sit back and slowly analyze what’s going on. In the meantime, let investors continue to cheer as stocks and bonds go on the rise, along with their hit single.

Chart provided by the NY-Times.

Universities Royally Screwing Students In The A**

As a U.S. college graduate, I can attest to one thing that many of us have in common…

I hate student loans!

Granted, I was assisted by several scholarships and grants throughout my undergraduate career, but needless to say, those barely covered my ass. I’m now in debt up to my eyeballs, and if I were to make the standard payment on my loans from here on out, I might be done before social security….maybe!

But more outrageous than my own student loan debt, is the way that universities have been playing with the lives of precious undergrads across this nation. For years, universities have been royally screwing students in the ass. They have been accepting gifts, everything from shares of stock to travel and entertainment tangibles, from banks, and other student loan lenders, and then in turn they offer these gift-giving lenders’ loans to students with no other options.

Talk about taking advantage of our youth. These universities that are supposed to be educating us, teaching us lessons and preparing us for the real world, are selling our debt, 25 years worth of debt for some, directly to the devil. But I guess getting sold out is a lesson everyone should know, so who better to teach to our youth than a prestigious university?

Thank God though that the United States finally decided to step in and do something about this. Although it’s entirely too late, considering this issue came up in Congress in 1995, it’s great to see that the U.S. will put limits on university ties to student loan companies and banks.

These new limitations will prevent universities from accepting “gifts” (a term that is not clearly defined in the new legislation) from lenders, and also requires that they offer at least 3 different lending institutions when communicating with potential student borrowers.

The new laws will stop students from being steered like cattle into the hands of bribing lending institutions, but it still won’t ensure that students are going with the lender that best fits their needs. Not to mention the new legislation only applies to federally backed student loans. This means, that the underhandedness and “wink-wink,” “nod-nodding” will still play a part in the $85 billion student loan industry.

And while the U.S. still plans to further put an end to this, I cannot ignore the fact that they have a long way to go regulating the student loan industry. New York’s Attorney General, Andrew M. Cuomo, uncovered several undisclosed relationships between lenders and universities. And complaints about such relationships have gone relatively ignored by Congress.

Now, I’m not against the loan industry. Afterall, they make education possible for millions of students. But there is a big problem when borrowing funds for your education becomes a lot like asking a loan shark for loan money. Students should not be steered into lenders by educational officials who are supposed to be a part of a higher learning experience. Universities already sell their souls to publishers, alumni donators, technology companies and potential advertisers.

How about selling their souls to the people who purchase them with their future and years and years of debt?

The students!

Top 5 Reasons The Soprano’s Ending Was Horrible

What in the hell was with that ending? David Chase, creator of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” took one of the most hyped series finales in the history of television and came out looking like more of a whimpering buffoon than Tony Soprano’s son, AJ!

Here’s why that ending was one of the worst ever:

5. BAD TIMING – The series ending episode of “The Sopranos” competed with 2 other highly valued television programs. Game 2 of the NBA Finals aired concurrently with the Soprano’s, and last year’s Game 2 garnered over 12 million viewers. The Tony Awards also aired Sunday night, after having an audience of just over 7 million viewers last year. The Soprano’s are averaging just over 8 million viewers per episode this year, and if they wanted to return to its peak viewer-ship of 11 million (in 2002) for its final episode, it definitely could have picked a better night.

Side-note: It probably helped Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, of the San Antonio Spurs, quickly dismantled Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

4. GUTLESSNESS – There are two kinds of leaders. There’s the one that takes responsibility for everything, good or bad. And then there is the type of leader that picks and chooses where he takes the blame, but then goes ahead and takes all the credit. David Chase is clearly the latter. He created a great series and delivered a final season that had built up tremendous tension, monumentous momentum and intellectual intrigue into the series’ final episode. And to end the show, he took the route that was the most cowardly, he let the viewers decide the ending because he couldn’t take the pressure of being critiqued if his ending wasn’t well received.

3. NEW PLOT TWISTS – While some may see the insertion of new plot twists into the last episode as creative and new, I think it was rather misplaced. The FBI agents issue with his “woman,” the possible indictment, Janice coming after Uncle Junior’s money and several other things, were all unresolved and quite misplaced. They were interesting, but the whole time I was watching them, I was thinking “Okay, what’s the deal with Tony?”

2. TOO MUCH SENTIMENTAL BULL – Nobody watches The Sopranos for its lovey-dovey nature. While Tony Soprano’s soft side and faults are contributing factors to the show’s success, if he was just a nice guy, we wouldn’t care about all of that. But throughout the final episode, Tony is either getting sappy with Uncle Jr., reminiscing with Janice or giving into AJ. Tony doesn’t choke anybody, order a hit, and he barely even curses. We don’t even get his reaction to Phil’s death. Technically, we don’t even know that Tony ordered the hit; for all we know, it could have been insinuated that the New York mafia should take out Phil themselves during the sit down they had with Tony and Little Carmine.

1. TOSSING TONY – Why didn’t David Chase just have James Gandolfini sit this last episode out? Other than the first couple of minutes and the sit down with the NY family, Tony’s character was nothing more than a supporting role. And then in the end, when David could have turned all that around, he hides Tony’s relevance in a sea of ambiguity. In the final scene in the diner, we see Tony reaching for his gun (maybe), and watching his surroundings. The scene, however, is more about what’s going on around him than it is himself. I understand what Chase was saying about the meaning of life and how no matter what walk of life you come from, it’s all about being with the ones you love, eating good food, playing sports, talking and “focus on the good times,” but come on! There’s no conclusion with Tony at all. Not one! Yeah, he realized the aforementioned motto, but he’s come to that conclusion before. Are we supposed to assume he’s settled on smelling the roses for the rest of his life?

Come on Mr. David Chase, you could’ve done a little better. I know it’s hard, and I know you probably would’ve gotten ripped no matter what you did, but at least if you brought a conclusion to Tony’s character, you would have went out with some dignity, instead of going out like Pussy…”Big Pussy” Bonpensiero that is.

I’ve Got No Money… But Economy Good?

With rising gas prices and a declining house market, it would appear that the economy really wasn’t doing all too well. But the facts would dispute such a claim. Truth is, the struggling economy hasn’t prevented consumers from doing their thing…consuming!

The clothing industry is seeing sales soar above last year’s numbers and even past analysts’ projections. Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Sacks and J.C. Penny private lines are seeing significant increases in their sales number thus far in 2007.

However, low-end clothing stores, such as Wal-Mart and Macy’s are struggling. In fact, they are performing well below market expectations, and revenues are considerably down from last year’s first quarter of sales.

So basically, middle income to high-end clothes are selling and discounted clothing lines are not…?

J.C. Penny had a 13% increase in profits for their last quarter ending May 5th. Practically half of Penny’s clothing sales are attributed to its private label brands, which are geared towards a middle and upper income consumers.

Kohl’s, another department store merchandiser, had a 25% profit increase. Obvioulsy, their sales destroyed market projections, but they also plan to add more private label brands and luxury items to their inventory.

Nordstrom’s experienced a 19% growth rate in their profits. Their department store’s clothing lines rose revenue by over $160 million due to an increase in internet sales. Nordstrom will be adding more designer clothing lines to its stock to continue their growth in sales.

So while the low income consumer is struggling to buy gas, middle and upper income households are buying luxurious clothes and designer fashion wear.

Obviously, the economy is going just well for private label buying, high-end consumers, but it’s not going so well for those who can only afford discount clothing.

Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer since Fred Flinstone sold rocks, has experienced a huge hit in revenue sales in comparison to last year. Wal-mart saw its same-store sales drop 3.5% in April, and only a .6% increase for the past quarter, well below the market projections. The hit was said to be caused by a drop-off in clothing sales, where Wal-Mart’s discount clothing lines drastically under-performed. Federated Department Stores, Inc. (Macy’s) also has announced that their profit targets were not reached for this past quarter.

You know, when people cannot afford to buy $6 jeans from Wal-Mart, there is a real problem in society. Whereas the question was once “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The question now is, “Which one comes first, driving to the store naked, or leaving the store with a new shirt but no gas in the car?” That’s pretty much what the low-income individual is forced to decide between. And obviously he or she is choosing to drive naked, because you need gas to get to work, and even Wal-Mart’s prices can’t compete with that.

So while the upper and middle-income buyer continues to purchase high-end clothes and designer labels, the rest of the populace will continue to wear old clothes and struggle to sell their houses.

So why is the economy doing so well for everyone but Joe Schmo?

I don’t have the answer. Everything I read keeps feeding me bull about how the economy is struggling, but the middle income households aren’t having any problem buying designer fashion, while middle to low-income families can’t afford to shop at Wal-Mart anymore.

But this situation that we are in is just a microcosm of how our government is running this nation. Everything that gets passed in Congress in reference to “supporting American economy” is just another way to make the rich richer. Lowering the capital gains tax, lessening tax obligations on the sale of second houses, and tons of other “taxbreaks” and laws don’t serve the average American, just the one on verge of going on a shopping spree.