Sonoma County Artists Respond

Tom Swearingen

Sonoma County artist Tom Swearingen knows what he’ll be doing for the next year: painting roses. Since retiring from the Santa Rosa police department several years ago, Tom has become known for his “Playful Realism” paintings. His “Photorealism” work includes a series of police badges, trains, and also many visual puns. In the aftermath of the devastating fires that left many homeless, he has committed to painting a “Rose of Resilience” each day for a year. For $95, a patron of the arts could commission a rose and specify the flower and background colors. All $95 goes to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Village Art Supply has donated canvases for the project. He quickly received orders for all 365 paintings, raising $34,540.

Brigitte Laurent & Patrick Amiot

A few miles west, in the town of Sebastopol, Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, have used their neighbors’ yards for installations of their self-described “Junk Art.” For years their whimsical sculptures have delighted passers-by on Florence Avenue. Amiot’s work can also be seen in public places around the area. One of their major works, a full-sized carousel, to honor immigrants, was unveiled last year on Canada Day in Markham, Ontario.

The husband-and-wife team decided to create a monument honoring first responders to the recent fires. Built with fire extinguishers, fuel canisters, woodstove parts and other detritus, the twelve-foot-high firefighter stands adjacent to the SMART commuter light rail in downtown Santa Rosa.

Sequence 01.mov from Eric McIntyre on Vimeo.

Santa Rosa Update

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.

Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.

The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.

Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.

Report from New York Marathon

My daughter Maureen has completed her 17th marathon, this one in New York. Here is her report.

One week ago I completed the New York City Marathon. As you know, I decided to raise money for Team Fox for Parkinson’s Research, in honor of my father. I was amazed and overwhelmed by your generosity – together we raised $3,375! I want to thank you again for contributing, it means so much to me.
For those who are interested, I wanted to let you know how it went on November 5th. The NYC marathon is the largest marathon in the world; this year, 50,766 participants finished the marathon. The course starts on Staten Island and makes its way through all five boroughs, to finish 26.2 miles later in Central Park. Security is very, very tight – even more so after a man drove a rented pick up truck onto a crowded bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, killing eight people and injuring eleven more. To get to the starting line, runners must take a bus or ferry provided by the marathon organizers. I caught my bus at 6:30 am and it took nearly two hours to get to the start village on Staten Island. I passed through a metal detector with my clear plastic bag holding my supplies – you are only allowed to take bags provided by the marathon organizers. There were police and National Guards everywhere, some holding big rifles. I was in the third wave, so I spent the next couple of hours waiting for my 10:40 am start time.
It was an overcast day, not windy, moderate temperature. We started on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and immediately crossed to Brooklyn. My plan for the run was to keep to a steady, easy pace, with hydration breaks every two miles. I know all about the pitfalls of getting caught up in the moment and starting out too fast, and I did a good job of pacing myself across the bridge. As we crossed the bridge, the only spectators were police and city employees, there for security, but they still cheered the runners as we passed; one police officer was blasting “Eye of the Tiger” from his squad car, the first of three times I would hear that song.
When we reached Brooklyn, we started seeing people lining the course, cheering, waving, holding signs, playing music, and giving high fives. This was my first glimpse of what I had heard so much about – the incredible atmosphere of the NYC Marathon, where nearly the whole city comes out to cheer and celebrate. We continued through Brooklyn into Queens, and I was doing well sticking to my plan. Because of security rules, I could not wear my hydration backpack and instead had to use a belt with a water bottle; I had my electrolyte drink in my bottle, and took water from the stations on the course, which meant I had quick walk breaks every couple of miles – I’m not coordinated enough to drink from a cup or bottle while running. But these little breaks were probably good for me.
To get to Manhattan, we crossed the Queensboro Bridge, on the lower deck. The bridge is about a mile long, with a long, steady incline for much of the way across. There are also lots of metal seams in the bridge, and you really have to watch your step; by now, it had been misting for quite a while and everything was wet. I saw a woman ahead of me slip and fall on the ramp coming off the bridge; she jumped right back up and continued running, so I hope she was all right.
I knew my sister, brother-in-law, and my husband were going to try to see me at the Queensboro Bridge, and I was right on schedule, but the crowds were so huge, I could not see them. Nor did they see me – unlike other marathons, I was always running in a pack, it never really thinned out. From there we turned up First Avenue and the crowds were tremendous. The Queensboro Bridge had taken a lot out of me, and while I felt as though I had recovered, by mile 18, things started to hurt – not that I was injured, but that my legs just started to hurt, perhaps due to lactic acid build up. By the time we reached the Willis Avenue Bridge to cross into the Bronx, I was having to take more frequent walk breaks, and my goal of finishing under 4:30 was starting to look out of reach.
We were only in the Bronx for a couple of miles before crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, making our way to Fifth Avenue, and heading towards Central Park. Even though I was now hurting pretty badly, I was still able to enjoy running through Harlem, where a woman on the sidelines, seeing I was struggling, stepped off the curb to blow her whistle and yell encouragement to me; those moments give me a lift that I can’t describe. By now, probably at least five hours after the first wave of elite/professional runners started the marathon, the crowds were still out there, cheering us on, all the way through Central Park, and across the finish line. My official time was 4:44:37 (30,414th place!).

Maureen McGovern approaching finish line

Because of security, I could not meet my family at the finish line; but they got to see me cross the line, thanks to my father getting tickets for the finish-line grandstand. Knowing that my family is waiting for me helps me to push through. I can’t say enough about how much it meant to me to have them there. And, thankfully, I eventually found them – I had to walk another half a mile to exit the park – and we all went out to celebrate.
A couple of additional thoughts:
I was pretty excited to run NYC this year in particular, because several of my running heroes would be there, including Shalane Flanagan, who lives and trains in Portland. When I finally found Kevin after exiting Central Park, one of the first things he told me was that Shalane won! She is the first American woman to win the NYC marathon in 40 years, and it was a commanding win – she finished a minute faster than the second place woman. (If you need a pick-me-up, watch her cross the finish line.)

And I have to give so much credit to the City of New York. To put on such a huge event, to keep everyone safe, to have it run so smoothly – and to do it all with such good cheer, is an amazing accomplishment. Every New Yorker we encountered seemed so proud of the marathon, so supportive, so happy to have us there. I have never experienced anything like it.
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Thanks again to everyone who supported me on this journey.
Please visit my personal page.

 

Garden of Eden… in Kansas!

Downtown Lucas Kansas

The Garden of Eden is situated a bit above Interstate 70, 235 miles east of Kansas City, about 150 miles northwest of Wichita. If this surprises you, possibly you’re thinking of a different Garden of Eden, maybe the one that was temporary home to Adam and Eve.

After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Samuel Perry Dinsmoor moved to Ohio, then Illinois where he taught school and married Frances Barlow Journey, a widow with two children. The marriage produced five more offspring. They later moved to Kansas and took up farming outside the town of Lucas. After retiring from working with the soil, the Dinsmoors moved in to town and, at age 62, S.P. began work on his twelve-room log cabin, the twenty-seven foot “logs” being carved limestone. Finished two years later, in 1907, Dinsmoor began offering tours and for the next twenty-two years added 150 sculptures representing his views on religion and politics. The artist created mammoth insects, angels with massive wingspans, forty-foot -tall trees and frolicking children. Numerous political messages included a waving concrete U.S. flag and a crucifixion of Labor by Doctor, Lawyer, Preacher and Banker. Life-sized statues of Adam and Eve greeted visitors at the main gate, Eve offering visitors an apple. Town leaders forced Dinsmoor to cover them with concrete loincloths. An “all-seeing-eye-of-God” was hung from a branch on the “tree of life.” The “eye” included a hose that ran from the basement of the house so that Dinsmoor could shout at passersby, pretending to be God speaking to them.

S. P. Dinsmoor with second wife and their first child

Dinsmoor also built a forty-foot tall mausoleum for himself and Frances. When his wife died, eighty-year-old S.P. married the family’s twenty-year-old housekeeper whom he had impregnated. They had two more children. He died at age eighty-nine and is interred in an open casket on top of his first wife. His widow sold the property to pay taxes.

The property was abandoned until 1969 when a new owner reopened it. In 2012, recognizing its artistic value, the Kohler Foundation financed its restoration, including removal of clothing from statues, returning them to their natural state as Dinsmoor had intended.

TripAdvisor rates Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden at four-and-a-half out of five.

Plus ça change*… plus c’est la Dick’s Drive-In

Wendy’s is promoting its “Baconator” high-calorie, high-fat sandwich… and salt, lots of salt. Jack in the Box is advertising a “Ribeye” burger. McDonald’s features “Buttermilk Crispy Tenders.” (And don’t forget their occasional McRibs.”) At Burger King, you can get a “Farmhouse King.” (1,220 calories) In-N-Out has its “secret” menu. Going against the trend, Dick’s Drive-In has pretty much the same menu as when Dick Spady opened his Seattle restaurant in 1954: Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers – Regular and “Deluxe” – French Fries and made-with-real-ice-cream shakes. No breakfast, no fancy stuff. Dick’s doesn’t do special orders or accommodate requests for substitutions.

Mr. Spady died in January 2016 at the age of 92. The business, still owned by the family, has grown to six restaurants, including the newest in Edmonds, on the northern edge of Seattle. Dick’s patrons chose that locale; more than100,000 voted their preferences for the new location. A seventh restaurant is in the works, after 177,000 ballots cast, in the city of Kent, near SeaTac airport. The Queen Anne, Seattle, location is the only one with indoor seating. All the others are order-at-the-window takeout. The older buildings have been remodeled, adding customer rest rooms. Dick’s owns them all; none are franchised.

Dick’s is known in the Seattle area for paying higher than the prevailing fast-food wage, as well as medical and dental benefits. Employees can take advantage of child-care assistance and scholarship opportunities. According to the web site, Dick Spady founded Dick’s Drive-In with the following business philosophy:

  • Make a profit
  • Invest in your employees
  • Invest in your community

You have probably noticed asterisks on restaurant menus warning you of the danger of food-borne illness from undercooked food are a legacy of the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak in 1993. Undercooked hamburgers served at fast-food outlets in California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington put 171 people in hospitals and killed four children. Jack in the Box had decided that cooking their burgers to the recommended 155 degrees made them too tough; they served their ground-beef patties at 145 degrees. The resultant law suits cost them $50 million.

Dick’s no-substitution policy served them well. During the Jack-in-the-Box fiasco, the local newspaper surveyed area restaurants about how they handled customer requests for burgers cooked rare or medium. Dick’s did not equivocate. They cook all theirs well-done. Period.

* Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same)

Death and Taxes

2016 was a tough year for hedge funds, their managers anyway. The combined income for the top 25 managers was a paltry $11 billion, the lowest since 2005. That’s just a little over half of the $21.2 billion they “earned” in 2014. Don’t feel too sorry for them, though. Most of their income is categorized as “carried interest” and taxed at a rate of 20%, compared to the 39.6% top tax rate for “earned” income. Your investment in a hedge fund is subject to the typical “two and twenty” fee structure. The fund manager annually takes two percent of your invested assets plus twenty percent “performance fee” on profits realized. (The performance fee is considered carried interest.) What if your assets lose money? Does the manager suffer 20% of the loss? Ha, ha, that was a joke.

While campaigning last year, our president said, “I have hedge fund guys that are making a lot of money that aren’t paying anything.” He said he would change the tax system to force those who work for hedge funds to pay more. “They’re paying nothing and it’s ridiculous. I want to save the middle class. The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

What little that has been revealed about the Republican “tax reform” includes a reduction of the tax rate to 15% for “pass-through” income. This is trumpeted as relief to small family businesses that are S corporations – meaning the business is not taxed. The income is passed through to the individual owners who are presumably taxed at a lower rate. Guess what – investment firms can be pass-through businesses also. If carried interest is taxed at the higher rate, who cares, because as pass-through income it will be taxed at even less than before.

The United States nominal tax on corporations is 35%, purportedly the highest in the industrialized world. The effective tax rate, because of endless incentives and breaks, is not so high, about 22% for profitable companies. Of the Fortune 500, nearly forty percent paid zero Federal tax in at least one year between 2008 and 2015. Some, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com and PG&E, incurred a total federal income tax bill of less than zero over the entire eight-year period — meaning they received rebates.

Our president recently delivered a speech to an audience including hundreds of truckers – “hard-working men and women” who are “the lifeblood of the economy.” He touted a lower tax on manufacturers as a boon to truckers as it will increase growth and demand for trucking. He also wants to eliminate the estate tax, pejoratively called the “death tax” by Republicans. He claims this will allow truckers to pass their assets on to the next generation, allowing their businesses to stay in business. Republicans have previously said keeping family farms alive was the overriding reason to abolish estate taxes.

The first $5.49 million of your estate is exempt from estate tax; for a married couple, it’s $11 million. Tax experts calculate last year 80 farms were subject to any estate tax at all; for trucking companies, it was 30. Elimination of the estate tax is estimated to save the Trump family approximately a billion dollars. That assumes that The Donald does actually own anything.

As billionaire hotelier and husband of another New York real-estate magnate, Leona Helmsley, famously said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”