Saturday, July 23, 2011

Los Angteles Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chef Beck Embarrass LAPD

It's easy to blame the LAPD for botching the Dodger beating case and erroneously fingering Giovanni Ramirez as the perpetrator. But really, the only blame belongs with Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chef Beck for creating the hoopla that identified Ramirez as a suspect the time. Ramirez was never charged with the Dodger beating. Naming a person publicly as a suspect typically does not generate the fanfare of a civic press conference to declare that the case had been solved. However in what can only be described as shameless famewhoring, that's what the mayor and police chief did. If they hadn't stuck their noses in front of the cameras, the arrest of the real perpetrators would not given LAPD the black eye it has received.

In a city which probably has the highest percentage of resident famewhores in the world, Mayor Villaraigosa ranks at the very top. Yet, this isn't the mayor's most extreme case of forcing himself into the spotlight. That occurred when the Lakers won the 2009 NBA championship and during the team parade Villaraigosa sneaked onto the team bus to stand side by side with Kobe Bryant during the procession. Read the disgusting details at

But actually the mayor's penchant for the spotlight is not the most disturbing thing since he is, after all, a politician. What particularly troubles me is that the mayor gives the image of a smart and knowledgeable individual, where within the city government it is known that he in fact is not terribly bright. I do admire Villaraigosa for transforming himself from a high school truant, making it to UCLA and after graduation, law school. But it bothers me that a person who is so articulate, glib, and seemingly well versed on many topics, can fool the public when in fact he is no Bill Clinton or Barack Obama on the intelligence scale.

Of course you could speculate that those who question his intelligence may have their own agenda. But the fact is that he did flunk the California Bar Exam four times. Now the California Bar is not exactly the toughest test in the world. Indeed when I took the bar review course before sitting for the bar, they taught us that the number one objective was to write an exam where the bar examiners did not laugh at you. Now anybody can flunk the bar exam once. Stuff happens. But when somebody goes zero for four on the bar exam, that's pretty much proof to me that the person is not a mental giant.

But really the fact that the mayor can portray the image of being more capable than he is doesn't bother me that much, if it were an isolated instance. However I know of another city politician with a similar profile. This longtime politician was frequently seen in the media, expounding intelligently on a number of different issues. Yet somebody who worked closely with this person described them as being as dense as a rock. So if I, who am generally unconnected to our public officials, know of two not-so-bright politicians who seem to know what they're talking about, how many more of them are there out there? Now that's something to be worried about.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Carmageddon--Christmas In July

As I had hoped, the parallel to the Bay Bridge closure a couple of years ago did hold up when the 405 Freeway was closed for bridge removal this past weekend. One of the best descriptions of how Carmageddon really turned out was "Christmas In July." However, I think the best meaning of this description is not necessarily the one intended by the person who coined it. Yes, Carmageddon was Christmas in July as Los Angeles had a weekend full of free flowing traffic. This has led to the next question of why it can't be like this all the time, or at least on an occasional basis. This is where "Christmas in July" hits the nail on the head. Christmas, the wonderful time of year when most everybody is happy and people are nice to each other, can only come once a year, when people are ready to depart from their normal everyday behavior to be happy, jolly and nice. So too, Carmageddon was a radical departure from most people's behavior pattern as people basically stayed home. Freeway traffic throughout the Los Angeles area was down by two thirds. The beaches were empty on a sunny California weekend. Restaurants and stores were empty, to the extent that in Westwood Village businesses closed down on early on Saturday due to a lack of business. Even traffic in Orange County, dozens of miles away from the Sepulveda Pass, was significantly lighter. Most stunningly, the canyon roads between the San Fernando Valley and West L.A., which are typically overflowing even when the 405 freeway is open, were hardly traveled when the 405 was closed. We truly witnessed abnormal behavior which will be difficult to replicate. Indeed, when Carmageddon II occurs in a year for a similar closure of the 405 freeway, will it be like the boy who cried wolf and true chaos next time around? Who knows.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Chinese Restaurants Change Their Names

Obviously stability is quite low in the restaurant community in general and Chinese restaurants in general. One tenant space in San Gabriel has had 14 or 15 different Chinese restaurants in a 20 year period, an especially staggering statistic when considering that one of these tenants kept the space for nine years. Chinese restaurants change names for various reasons--the restaurant is sold to a new owner and the name is not part of the transaction, the lease expires and the landlord refuses to renew it and re-leases the space, the restaurant plain goes out of business and a successor is found etc. etc.

One interesting subcategory is where the name of the restaurant changes, but the restaurant's operation appears unchanged, with the same menu, same waiters, and so on. Sometimes the name change is hardly noticeable, such as a slight change in the spelling of one of the words in the restaurant name. A good reason for this type of name change would be a change in the ownership lineup, even a small one, as Chinese restaurants often have multiple owners, and a slight change in name could be notice to creditors that there are new owners, or perhaps even a new legal entity involved.

Then again, there are the more nefarious reasons for these name tweaks. Sometimes the change in name indicates a new ownership entity, as noted above, but brought about by the desire to stiff certain creditors. Now few creditors are dumb enough to continue to do business with a successor entity if the the predecessor entity has skipped out on their obligations. But there is one category of creditor who is dumb enough to not ask any questions--the government. An accountant who handles a number of Chinese restaurant clients told me that it is not uncommon for a Chinese restaurant to fold up its legal entity and reincorporate into a new one for the express purpose of stiffing the government of unpaid sales tax proceeds. You'd think that the government would be smart enough to figure out the connection between old and new restaurants, particularly with similar sounding names, at identical locations. But clearly this is not the case.

A casual conversation with a waiter at another Chinese restaurant suggests another scam. One day, a popular, longstanding restaurant changed its name to something radically different. Being only an occasional visitor to the eatery I couldn't tell if there were any changes besides the new signs and new menu, so I asked the waiter in charge if this was the same place. He said that it was, then rather cryptically said that when you have been in business for a long period of time, sometime the government makes you do these things. My best guess is that he was referring to the unemployment tax rules, where the taxes the employer pays is based on the magnitude of employee claims for unemployment made against the employer. Now, if you're a brand new business you have no past experience of unemployment insurance claims which can be used to set your rate. So brand new employers are assessed at an arbitrary rate, but a rate which may well be less than that paid by existing employers with an experience rating. Consequently, it can pay for a longstanding Chinese restaurant which may have a high experience rating to go out of business, set up a new entity, and start all over again. Of course there are laws against such a change of identity for the purpose of lowering one's unemployment tax rate, but apparently here too, the government is asleep at the wheel.