Monday, October 5, 2015
Carol W. LaGrasse submitted the following letter to the Adirondack Sun Journal. The Rockefeller family helped fund the Adirondack Park system back in the early 1990s, and some of their properties were exempt from its fascistic regulation. The State of New York has adopted a long sequence of anti-development regulations that use the pretext of global warming to rationalize the cheap land grab of the Rockefellers and other elite property owners. LaGrasse has been fighting envirofascists in the Adirondacks for years.
October 4, 2015
Letters to the Editor
Adirondack Journal Sun
Warrensburg, NY 12885
Rural Culture in the Crosshairs
Thom Randall’s engaging article, “Thurman fall farm tour to showcase rural culture” (September 14), features a charming photo of children in a farm wagon. It seems ridiculous to claim that high officials in the state Department of Environmental Conservation would imagine threatening the countryside resurgence that the story illustrates.
But on June 29, my husband and I made the 2-1/2 hour trek up to Ray Brook for an official DEC hearing on the agency’s ten-year wildlife plan. The receptionist initially refused to admit us, saying that it was a staff meeting, but changed her mind after going into the room to inquire. Everyone else there was either a government official or affiliated with an environmental group.
We were astounded by the closing words of Joe Racette, the Albany DEC official who chaired the meeting and made the final presentation.
Mr. Racette ignored a request from the DEC’s Ray Brook official who hosts DEC’s public hearings and did not ask the audience for questions or comments. Instead he made a stunning closing pronouncement:
“The Department’s priority is restoration of large predators.”
However, he emphasized, “This is not socially acceptable.”
Instead, he said, “we use…corridors…connectivity…habitat protection…and global warming” considerations to accomplish this.
Except for this last-minute remark, neither the term “large predators,” nor wolves or even cougars, were discussed at the hearing.
I ‘ve been writing about DEC’s documented efforts to restore wolves in New York for five years; yet this is the first such pronouncement that I’ve heard at a public hearing.
Deception reigns. Wolves are not the gentle puppies displayed by their handlers who have toured the Adirondack region this year.
If you would like to learn facts from an international expert about real life wolves, their voracious appetite for deer and farm animals, the diseases that they transmit to people, wolf hybridization, and more, please join us at the Nineteenth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights on October 17 in Latham. For more information, see our web site prfamerica.org or telephone 518-696-5748.
Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America
Thursday, September 24, 2015
PO Box 130
West Shokan, NY 12494
September 24, 2015
The Honorable Kevin Cahill
One Albany Avenue
Kingston, NY 12401
Dear Mr. Cahill:
In the course of a project that I have pursued over the past few months, I have reviewed the contents of 540 academic articles in the three leading industrial relations journals: Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, and Journal of Labor Research. The field of industrial relations was established as a left-wing response to mainstream economics, and its support for the minimum wage was one of the key reasons.
Nevertheless, the majority of the studies that appeared between 2008 and 2013 found that the minimum wage is associated with increased unemployment. That is not surprising because the majority of mainstream economists have long agreed that the minimum wage causes unemployment. The reason is that an enforced wage floor above the market rate increases the supply of labor but reduces demand. The reduction in demand comes about because employers leave the state; higher wages lead to higher prices and customers leave the state; moreover, employers find new production methods that reduce demand. The reduction in demand forces unskilled labor into permanent unemployment and dependency.
Until 2014 Germany did not have a federal minimum wage. Its youth unemployment rate has been half that of Great Britain. Britain, which has had a lower minimum wage than France, has had a slightly lower youth unemployment rate than France. France, with its suburbs or Banlieue overflowing with unemployed minority youth who live lives of desperation and violence, has the one of the highest minimum wages.
Until a few years ago the US minimum wage was low enough that modest increases had limited effect on unemployment. Nevertheless, Walter Wessels, an economist at North Carolina State University, realized that the minimum wage has led to a decline in training and the end of the great American tradition of working one’s way up from the bottom. That has occurred because in order to compensate for the minimum wage without layoffs, employers reduced what Wessels has called “fringe benefits”: training investments and other benefits. They spend less on low-wage employees and they replace them with capital investment. The result has been increasing income inequality because minimum wage employees are locked at the bottom.
At a meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association this past May, I asked a panel that was held concerning the minimum wage, including two of the zealots advocating the minimum wage here in New York, what the effect on business startups is. The countries with high minimum wages are not famous for dynamic economies, innovation, or progress. No one on the panel knew what the effects on innovation or startups will be. Andrew Cuomo, the HUD chief who required that banks make subprime loans, may not be the best one to ask.
The claim that the minimum wage is benevolent, progressive, liberal, altruistic, generous, or kind is false. The minimum wage forces a section of the public into permanent unemployment and dependency. The workers who cannot earn the $15 per hour that the minimum wage will require are among the most vulnerable in society. Compelling a large share of them to remain permanently unemployed and dependent on welfare because that’s what the SEIU and social democrats whose ideas have driven New York’s economy into the ground for the past century want is illiberal, reactionary, and vicious.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Yesterday, I blogged about the Catskill Mountain Railroad dispute. This is an email that I sent to Senator James Seward:
Dear Senator Seward:
There has been an ongoing dispute between County Executive Mike Hein and the Catskill Mountain Railroad, which leases a railroad right of way that Ulster County bought about thirty years ago. I have blogged about the dispute at http://www.mitchell-langbert.blogspot.com/2015/06/an-open-bidding-process-is-needed-to.html . The best way out of the conflict is to introduce open bidding so that the party that can most efficiently use the right of way can acquire it through privatization at optimal gain to the county. That can be accompanied with a tax credit to businesses local to the track, which have been hurt for a century by the Ashokan Reservoir and New York City’s predatory policies.
The possible bidders are New York City, the existing railroad, and the railroad’s competitors, one of which has told me that it wishes to acquire the track. The city has already offered a grant to fund removal of the track and replacement with a trail, but it is far from clear that the $2.5 million offer contemplates losses due to the ensuing depression in tourism. In 2014, the existing railroad’s first good year, about 40,000 visitors came to the railroad. This meant a million dollars in revenue. At three percent interest, the present value of lost [railroad] revenue of one million dollars per year into infinity is $33 million, but costs need to be subtracted. [In the email I omitted to mention that there may be as much as a $1 million annual loss-- an additional $33 million present value--to local diners, stores, and restaurants; that would reflect $25 in spending per visitor. The present value of the total loss may be closer to $20 million.] A more complex estimate would need to determine what the value added to the county is; value added includes local wages and purchases of supplies from local businesses. A $10 million price is probably closer to the value that the city should pay to remove the track. The city has long exploited Ulster County through one-sided, manipulative deals, as David Soll’s Empire of Water makes clear.
The conflict has reached the point at which a Republican insurgent candidate, Terry Bernardo, has stepped forward. The solution set of both sides has heretofore been limited to two artificial poles: (1) the city and the Catskill Mountainkeeper’s proposal for a trail, which makes artificial projections about the extent of potential use and is indifferent to the effects on small businesses, and (2) the existing Catskill Mountain Railroad’s proposal to extend the existing arrangement, possibly through a rail plus trail. The Catskill Mountain Railroad has failed to live up to its 25-year agreement to rebuild the track and has refused to make its financial statements public. Its business plan does not contemplate its ability to raise the appropriate level of financing. To be competitive, the city’s bid would need to add say $10 million to the bid that the CMRR or other railroads make to compensate the region for the loss of tourism. That amount of money could be used, if the city’s bid is successful, to fund tax credits that will enable existing businesses to expand and develop alternative tourist attractions.
Although this issue is not in your direct domain, Senator Seward, I would like to suggest that you offer to procure expertise at the state level to help the county structure public hearings and a public bidding process that will enable the diverse interests to make competitive bids for the property so that it can be privatized and used for the best benefit of the people of Ulster County. The competition between secretive lobbyists at the DEP and the Mountainkeepers versus the secretive lobbyists at the CMRR is no way to resolve a public debate. I am copying the Ulster County Legislature with respect to this idea.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
I just wrote the following email to Terry Bernardo, who is likely to run for Ulster County executive, and David Donaldson, who is a member of the Ulster County Legislature and who had been contemplating a run. Bernardo and Donaldson have been motivated to consider running by a debate concerning the Catskill Mountain Railroad. I was drawn into investigating the question by Mike Marnell, owner of the Lincoln Eagle, who is committed to supporting a renewal of the Catskill Mountain Railroad's lease. After investigating the problem, I found that the facts do not support Marnell's position, and I have resigned from the Lincoln Eagle (which didn't pay me but for which I had contributed extensive amounts of volunteer labor).
County Executive Mike Hein has proposed replacing the track with a hiking trail. Environmental extremist Kathy Nolan, head of the Robert Kennedy Jr.-backed Mountainkeeper organization, has lobbied for removal of the track.
The Catskill Mountain Railroad might be the best available entity to run a railroad on the county-owned tracks that run from Kingston to Phoenicia, but I doubt it. At a minimum, alternatives should be investigated and a bidding process established.
The assumption that the county is limited to two options is misguided. In the black-and-white world of the Lincoln Eagle, the two options are (1) dismantling the tracks to satisfy the extremist views of Kathy Nolan and her Mountainkeeper organization, which has pressured County Executive Mike Hein to remove the tracks and (2) renewing the existing Catskill Mountain Railroad's contract.
Other options are available and should be investigated. These include opening a bidding process that will ensure that the county optimizes economic value by selling the land to the most efficient interest. Railroads have minimal environmental impact, and a bid that involves reconstructing and making the track environmentally sound would address any realistic concerns. The businesses along Route 28 should not be asked to cater to the peccadilloes of Kennedy and Nolan. Considerations include both the land value and the attraction of tourism to the region.
There is no reason why the city can't bid on the land, but if there is a cost to the county in terms of lost tourism, the city needs to compensate the county for the lost value. That money should then be returned to businesses in Kingston and along Route 28 through a tax credit. In other words, the bidders can include railroads and the city, and an estimate of the economic impact on tourism can be integrated into the bidding process. The CMRR, the city, outside railroads, environmental groups, and others should be permitted to bid. A bipartisan panel should be set up to review the valuation on tourist impact. The CMRR attracted approximately 40,000 visitors in 2014. The evidence of a tourist impact of a trail would need to be based on impacts of other regional trails such as the Erie Canal park.
Dear Terry and David:
In the past few days I have participated in an interview with County Executive Mike Hein and with a competitor to the Catskill Mountain Railroad. I have also read the CMRR’s business plan and a response to it by a Ulster County Community College professor who was taking Mike Hein’s side. [Hein has supported replacing the railroad with a hiking trail.] I have rethought my position on the railroad for several reasons:
1. I was surprised to learn that the CMRR is a private corporation. As such, it has received a monopolistic, subsidized lease for the rail right of way.
2. The CMRR sued the county in response to a letter concerning its failure to develop the railroad tracks. Part of the suit involved the county’s demand for disclosure of the railroad’s financial statements. A judge ruled that the railroad does not need to disclose its financial statements.
3. I have asked Ernie Hunt [the head of the CMRR] to see the railroad’s financial statements, and he has refused my request.
4. Not-for-profit corporation status is better suited than for-profit status for a monopolistic lease, especially when the lessee depends on volunteer labor so that there is risk of fraud. As well, the county is entitled to know whether there is fraud, excessive salaries, misuse of funds, hoarding of funds, or other abuses.
5. Other railroads in the region are interested in leasing or purchasing the railroad right of way, especially if it includes a right of way to an active line so that they can transform the railroad into one that functions in a way more like a normal railroad or that can intermodally transfer passengers to and from a commuter line. Executives from other railroads have indicated that an arrangement along those lines is possible.
6. Just because the CMRR received a lease 25 years ago does not mean that it should receive a lease again.
7. I was told that investment capital is available to competitors, owners of another railorad, and they might make a financial offer to the county if the line is extended to an active railroad.
8. The CMRR’s business plan presented to Mike Hein contains no specifics about any search for or offer of private financing. There is no indication that they have tried to obtain financing or that a private financier would fund their operation given that they rely on volunteer labor.
9. I am concerned about the ethics of a monopolistic corporation (granted a unique lease) that refuses to disclose its financial data to the public. In the post-Enron era, financial transparency is a priority. Al Higley, Mike Marnell and others vouch for the integrity of the CMRR’s leadership, but that is not enough; many famous people vouched for Enron.
10. There is no reason why the railroad right of way can’t be put up for a competitive bid. That would seem to resolve the question of what economic use is best for the railroad right of way. The grant offer from the city should serve as a baseline, and an RFP for competitive bids should be put up as a call option. If any proprietor, including the CMRR, is willing to offer more for the right of way than the city is, then that bid should be taken. The right of way should go to the best offer. Nothing prevents the railroad or any other bidder from working with the city to create a rail plus trail.
11. The right of way should be established to optimize what the bidders are willing to offer. I assume that will mean extending it from Kingston’s rail line into the Catskills.
As a result, I am not confident that the current railroad is the right entity to operate a railroad. I have been told that the reason that the CMRR refuses to make their financial results public is that they have an us-versus-them mentality. In other words, they are paranoid rather than crooked. That is still inappropriate for a for-profit corporation that is receiving a monopolistic contract from the county. As well, the railroad’s first good year, 2014, generated a million dollars in cash. What has been done with the cash? Was it used for capital improvements, as the railroad is contractually obligated to do? Was it paid to shareholders or in salaries? Has it been hoarded?
Refusal to make financial results public is to me problematic, and I will not support such an entity. Not-for-profit corporations are required to make their results public. I will not lift a finger to help an entity that will not tell me how it spends its money. When I give to charity, I use ratings to determine the best charities. This situation is unsavory.
I will be happy to discuss my concerns with you in person. At this point, however, I have serious reservations about supporting a secretive corporation that receives public benefits. The days of Jay Gould and August Belmont are long past.