Archive | May, 2008

Hidden Pond Trysts and Twists with Kennebunkport Conservation Trust

30 May

Hidden Pond is having a gala.  And a showcase.  And a luncheon.  Invitations have littered the mail from one end of Kennebunkport to the other.  But while the Maine Democratic Party finds The Hangover worthy of an invitation to their signature event, Hidden Pond does not.  Unlike many of our neighbors, we did not receive an invite to the aforementioned events.  We are not surprised by the slight.

It was a shock, however, to find that the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust is one of the sponsors of the upcoming festivities. What could a conservation group have in common with developers who are turning 60 acres of woodland into a super fabulous motel?  Apparently, money.  The KCT is one of three listed sponsors that will benefit from the $150 per person Preview Gala, the $40 per person Luncheon with the Designers, and the Decorator Showcase, in which you can walk the grounds of Hidden Pond for only $20.

(If you are budget conscious, feel free to stop by Hangover Headquarters where you can play wiffle ball in the backyard and throw a rock in our hidden swamp for the low, low price of 39 cents.  And while the Decorator Showcase is not handicapped accessible, our thin and well-trodden lawn is.)

It’s great that Hidden Pond is taking care of local non-profits.  For the Child Abuse Council of York County and The River Tree Center for the Arts, it’s a no-brainer to hook up with the “Tree and Brie” milieu of Hidden Pond.  Of course, there’s a benefit for Hidden Pond, too.   In an attempt to appear warm and fuzzy to consumers, corporations regularly align themselves with charities and non-profits.  “It’s become compulsory because it’s how corporate citizenship is now defined,” said Douglas Quintal, Professor of Marketing Communication at Emerson College.  Quintal added:  “The ones that make sure their contributions are known are usually the ones doing it as a fashion show.”  Yes, those charities are prominently displayed on invitations and the HP web site:  Hidden Pond would like potential customers to feel good about their impending conspicuous consumption.

Then there’s the matter of the conservation group partnering with the developer.  (A developer whose project is far different than their original proposal and one who has exploited every opportunity provided by state loopholes and a poorly written land use ordinance.)  The Trust-HP connection raises questions about an environmental entity that wants to maintain its integrity. 

The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust is “dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of our town” and “to protect the landscape and character of the town we all love.”  The Trust’s mission as advocated by Executive Director Tom Bradbury is to find places special to all and set them aside for all to enjoy.  They’ve done a great job of it over the past 30 years, preserving 1604 acres.  But by attaching its sponsorship to these Hidden Pond events (and providing them with the KCT mailing list), the Trust places itself in an awkward position.  The mutually marketed sponsorship gives the impression that the KCT supports the Hidden Pond development, a concept which would seem at odds with the Trust’s goals. 

Upon raising this issue to Bradbury, he noted that the Trust is not against development, but for protection.  The Hidden Pond land had already been purchased and the project was a done deal when the KCT became involved.  In the Trust’s view, they are trying to take a practical, positive approach and do what they can to benefit their cause.  They will receive funds with which they hope to keep their children’s educational program active for several years.  As the Hangover Children will benefit  from that program, one would think The Hangover would be happy about how this is playing out.  However, that the Trust even appears compromised by the deep pockets of Hidden Pond makes these machinations sting like a shot of cheap tequila. 

The pursuit of the Trust’s goals is a noble undertaking.  And perhaps the KCT-Hidden Pond tryst will be one of those rare cases where the ends will justify the means.  Nevertheless, another picture can be drawn, too.  When the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust’s name is printed beside that of Hidden Pond, no matter what the practical applications and windfalls, it functions as a stamp of approval on the development and this developer.  While The Hangover contends that “statement” is something the Trust should have avoided, Bradbury sees the partnering as “not an endorsement of this development but a working reality.”  And he may be correct.  

Reality bites again. 

 

 

Baldacci Bash Worth The Money?

25 May

The Hangover was recently extended a kind invitation from the Maine Democratic Party:  A pre-convention celebration with: 

 

*GOV. JOHN BALDACCI*

 

 

 

(Their typeface, not mine)
Thank you, MDP for this thrilling opportunity.  What citizen wouldn’t like to discuss the absurd school consolidation plan  proposed by the Governor last year?  Then one might enquire why the Governor based the state budget on the savings generated by it, when the plan actually had little chance of passing.   And of course, there’s the whole tax structure issue, where Mainer’s hit the Triple Crown of Giving:  high property taxes, a 5 to 7 percent  sales tax on just about everything but groceries, and an 8% state income tax (nearly 3% higher than Mass–, er, Taxachusetts).  We would also like to hear the Governor’s views on diminishing non-service industry-based jobs.  And considering that the service sector is doing well, perhaps he could explain why we don’t have any Emperor’s Club VIP franchises yet.  This state, in technical economic terms, is a mess. 
Unfortunately, The Hangover will not be attending the Celebration.  The event costs a prohibitive $250 per person (unless you were one of the first ten people to reply to the email, which allowed you to get in for a late-night infomercial-ish $100.  No, we are not making that up).  So, we’ll let the developers, lawyers, bankers, and businessmen do cocktails and weenies with the holder of Maine’s highest office. 
However, the invitation did the leave The Hangover with one question:  How much to celebrate with a good Governor?  

Gas Tax Holiday In The Sun

9 May

In the last few weeks, John McCain proposed a Memorial Day to Labor Day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon.   This would theoretically bring relief to the average citizen now paying $3.60 a gallon and up.  This is part of McCain’s economic plan, as well.  Theoretically, people will take the four bucks they’ll be saving on a “fill up” and pump those big dollars back into the economy.  Maybe he thinks there will be a direct response and the food industry will prosper by those savings being spent on the Twinkies, Funny Bones, and Ring Dings that stock the shelves of our local Quickie Marts and Gas Stations.  As the gas tax funds the maintenance and building of roads, perhaps McCain also hopes that saved consumer dollars might be spent in the rubber industry, when consumers replace tires blown out in unaddressed potholes. 

Democratic response to the proposal has been mixed.  The elitist Obama has the audacity to take a “big picture” view and call the proposal an “election year gimmick” that doesn’t address the real problem of oil dependency and gas usage.   He stands in the way of every American’s right to immediate junk food gratification.  No metaphor, there.

Hillary Clinton has taken the McCain Proposal one step further.  She would agree to the holiday if the lost revenues were regained through a windfall profits tax on the oil companies.  Now there’s an idea the Hangover can get behind:  Taxing those who are gauging consumers and enjoying record profits.  However, one would have to be quite naive to assume that this tax wouldn’t be passed right back to the consumer.  Exxon, Chevron, and the others probably have their creative staffs already fabricating an early summer crisis to blame for a can’t-be-helped 18.5 cent jump in gas prices on June 1st.

Brian Faler of Bloomberg reported that “more than 200 economists, including four Nobel prize winners signed a letter rejecting proposals”by Clinton and McCain.  Reasons include the possibility of raising oil and gas usage at a time when we should be trying to lessen it, and that the increased usage would benefit oil companies while increasing the federal budget deficit.  We’ve got big problems, and saving four dollars a fill up over three months isn’t going to make a dent. 

At least this is the first step, no matter how small, in a direction that this country is going to have to take: Strict Government Regulation of the Oil Industry.   Oil is a limited resource and we don’t have much of the world’s supply controlled domestically.  It’s clear that the American oil industry will act in their own best interest, which is not the same as the country’s best interest (Do voters yet regret not having pointed that out to Bush and Cheney?).  Exxon made 40.6 billion in 2007, Chevron 18.7.  Meanwhile, a greater percentage of people’s incomes are going to heat their homes and drive their cars; gas prices are raising costs in every sector of the economy, and supply is lessening.  These simple facts should make it obvious that the US cannot continue operating within its current oil industry model. 

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the civilian aspects of the nuclear power industry:

 This Act is the fundamental U.S. law on both the civilian and the military uses of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, it provides for both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring the policy that “the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise.” The Act requires that civilian uses of nuclear materials and facilities be licensed, and it empowers the NRC to establish by rule or order, and to enforce, such standards to govern these uses as “the Commission may deem necessary or desirable in order to protect health and safety and minimize danger to life or property.”

The red text highlights the reasoning behind the Act.  The US is now at the point where oil needs to be considered in the same light as nuclear power.  Conditions in America and around the world (Hello, Iraq) indictate that world peace, the general welfare, the standard of living, and free enterprise all feel Big Oil’s foot on their throat.  It’s time to act–and 18.4 cents a gallon for three months just isn’t going to get it done. 

(Hey, regulation isn’t so bad.  We could always skip it and go right to nationalization.  The 155 billion in profits these companies made last year would look pretty good in federal coffers right now.)

Un-American Airlines

2 May

American Airlines has been battling.  No, not to maintain profits or to keep terrorists off of their planes.  They’ve been fighting their own employees, in particular their skycaps in Boston.  It is a tempest that has been stewing for three years now.  The corporate giant has taken on manual laborers and lost–first in court and now in dignity. 

In 2005, American Airlines imposed a $2.00 a bag fee on luggage handled curbside by skycaps.  Many of the airline’s customers assumed that this service charge went to the skycaps, who were tipped for their baggage-handling services.  The truth, however, was that the fee went into the airline’s pockets.  The result was plummeting incomes for skycaps, who earned the majority of their pay through tips.  The skycaps took American to federal Court to regain lost tips.  They won and nine Boston skycaps were awarded a total settlement of $325, 000.  Things went back to normal–briefly.

A month after losing in Court, American has attacked again.  They have now prohibited skycaps from taking tips.  To cover the difference in lost tips, AA raised their skycaps’ hourly rates from $5.15 to $12-$15 dollars an hour.  The skycaps’ incomes are going to shrink again, as that ten dollar raise would likely cover the tips on just five bags an hour.  Of course, American is still pocketing the $2 dollar service charge. 

Apparently, American would rather pay out an extra $10 an hour per skycap than see their employees make more money through tips.  And this tip-ban is only in effect at Boston’s Logan, the home of the skycaps who sued the Airline.  This exposes American’s new policy as a childish punishment or petty revenge, take your pick.  It is not the result of a seriously considered business model.  It looks like American will be heading to court again to take another beating.

One might argue that American Airlines is a business and can do whatever they want in the free market.  Unfortunately, as American recently found out in court, there are laws that regulate working conditions.  The market is not exactly free, either.   Let’s not forget that the Airline Industry is heavily subsidized by the American government, including an enormous post 9/11 bailout.  The Hangover would prefer that our tax dollars are not used to fund a loathsome enterprise like American.  But if the citizens of this country are going to fund such a corporation, shouldn’t we expect it to act within some ethical limits?  Or at least to not stomp and flail like a petulant eight year-old? 

One can take action, however.  Fly Jet Blue, Southwest, US Air, or any airline that treats its employees better than American.   The Hangover can only assume that would be every other airline.