Posted by: Scott Groves | February 27, 2012

Movie review: Ultra-Marathon Man

Chronicling Dean Karnazes’ attempt to run 50 marathon, in 50 days, in all 50 states – Ultra Marathon Man is a documentary about one man’s quest to make the United States a healthier country.

Dean Karnaze is one of the world’s foremost endurance runners.  He has competed in 50, 100 and 300 mile marathons and holds most of the course records for these brutal competitions.  The 50 marathons in 50 days was originally conceived by Dean as a personal challenge.  Needing sponsorship, he approached several companies and finally found Northface as a willing sponsor.  Financed by Northface as an awareness campaign about childhood obesity, Ultramarathon Man is fun-filled movie about one man’s drive to complete a personal goal.

The movie, and Dean as a great human being, does a good job profiling other runners that joined Dean on his journey.  Many of the personal stories about other runners who join Dean on his journey are inspiration and at times very sad.

I had read Dean’s book, Ultramarathon Man, a while back and it served as an important back story for this documentary.  I highly recommend reading the book before checking out the film.

If, like me, you’re lacking motivation to start a new workout program.  I guarantee you this book and film will help get you on track.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 27, 2012

What happens when you’re not a cowboy?

One of the ongoing critiques of President George W. Bush is that his “cowboy” mentality inappropriately lead us into a war with Iraq.  Never able to prove his claims regarding Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, “Bush Lied, People Died” has become a favorite bumper sticker of left leaning voters who don’t care to read past the headlines.

The truth is, WMDs or not, it is my humble opinion that the war in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein was a net-positive for our country, the citizens of Iraq and the middle east.  Although you may have to dig deep to page A30 or so of the Los Angeles Times (or any other liberal periodical) to find the information, the truth is that most Iraqi citizens are better off today than they were a decade ago.

The torture camps are gone, a democratically elected government is in place and foreign governments (and companies) are pouring billions of dollars into the country’s infrastructure in hopes of securing contracts for cheap oil .

A majority of women and child have more rights and opportunities today than they did under Hussein.  And the country, though still a work in progress, seems to be moving in the right direction.

Yes, a lot of U.S. soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice for what many claim to be a pointless military action.   Yes, the United States spent a massive amount of money to finance a war we really couldn’t afford.  Yes, it may have been Bush’s cowboy mentality that got us into the situation in the first place.

However, lets look at what happens when the President of the United States and de-facto leader of the free-world doesn’t “cowboy up”.

The situation in Somalia during the early 90’s and especially the condition of the country between 1993 and 1994 was barbaric.  Warlords ran the country, women were raped at will, the country became a trading depot for guns and drugs and the citizens who didn’t join a military faction or gang were starving to death.

In the Fall of 1993, after the events of what would later become the Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down unfolded on live T.V., President Clinton had the following to say:

“We face a choice.  Do we leave when the job gets tough or when the job is well done? Do we invite the return of mass suffering or do we leave in a way that gives the Somalis a decent chance to survive?  … We started this mission for the right reasons and we’re going to finish it in the right way.  [if we withdrawal now] Our leadership in world affairs would be undermined at the very time when people are looking to America to help promote peace and freedom in the post-Cold War world.  And all around the world, aggressors, thugs and terrorists will conclude that the best way to get us to change our policies is to kill our people. It would be open season on Americans” – Clinton (exert from his 11 minute speech in October 1993)

Clinton was giving the command to deploy 5,500 more troops to Somali in an effort to help the countries starving citizens and apparently to overthrow the warlords.  Clinton appeared to be taking American into battle, both for humanitarian efforts and to avenge the recent deaths of 13 Army Ranger and Delta Force soldiers who died during the fight for Mogadishu.

Presiding as President of the United States throughout a generally peaceful period in world history, this appeared to be Clinton’s chance to show the world he could be a military leader as well as a great politician.

Unfortunately Clinton was President who governed based on polls and political maneuvering and not from a place of first principals.  Knowing that a fight in Somalia, a small African country few Americans could find on a map, would be unpopular, Clinton put a 6 month time horizon on operations in Somalia.

It turned out that Clinton’s words would turn out to be sadly prophetic.  It is my humble opinion that as American were participating in the largest financial and technical boom of my generation, and because Clinton was unwilling to make the hard military decisions that accompany the Presidency, the country got complacent about the real threats that were building against America throughout the world.

Having not completed the mission, having missed his chance to be a “cowboy”, Clinton pulled American troops out of Somalia in the summer of the 1994 and the UN mission fell apart shortly thereafter.

I believe our lack of resolve, show of weakness and eventual withdraw in Somalia did allow thugs and terrorists to conclude that the best way to get America to change our policies was to kill our people.  Osama Bin Laden, a fugitive the CIA had plenty of opportunities to kill or capture during Clinton’s tenure as President, didn’t wake up on 9/11/2001 and decide he could execute a massive plan to kill Americans.  This decade long plan that lead to those horrible events were conceived in the 90’s.  As Clinton had suggested during his 11 minute address to the nation regarding the loss of troops in Somalia, our lack of military resolve in foreign operations did in fact lead to  “open season on Americans.”  It just took 10 years for the terrorists to finally attack.

This week, 18 years later, Secretary Hillary Clinton will gather in London with foreign diplomats from 20 countries.  Their goal is to spend about six hours trying to solve a problem that has torn apart the country of Somali for more than 20 years, establishing a functional government.

It turns out, 18 years after Bill Clinton missed out on his “cowboy” opportunity, his wife Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State,is now trying to figure out how to address the same problems.  Warlords are still running the country, human rights violations are occurring daily, the country is still a trading depot for illegal weapons and drugs, and the citizens who don’t join a militia or gang are starving to death.  Sound familiar?  Additionally, in an attempt to expand their illegal enterprises, many Somali warlords have expanded their operations to the ocean and have become the most feared of modern-day pirates.

It many ways, President George W. Bush’s Presidency will be remembered for the military action he took during his 8 years as President.  However, I think it’s just as important that we judge Presidents, Like Bill Clinton, based on the military action they didn’t take.  Who knows for sure what the long term implications would have been, but as it pertains to Somalia, I wish Clinton would have had a little bit more cowboy in him.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 25, 2012

Corruption of an LA County Assessor

Like an episode from The Sopranos, the story unfolding in the County of Los Angeles may soon bring to light one of the many reasons reason why our county has a huge shortfall in tax revenue.  It turns out that through unethical political favors and quasi illegal tax re-assessments, some of the largest property owners in Los Angeles might not be paying their fair show.

The L.A. Times is reporting that a relationship between long time county employee and recently elected L.A. County Assessor John Noguez, and property tax “consultant” Raman Salari, may be inappropriate at best and completely illegal at worst.

Criminal investigations are under way and you can read the entire story here and here.

In a nutshell, it appears that Mr. Salari, a Ferrari-driving, fast-talking, walking stereo-type of a salesman has an uncanny ability to get L.A County property tax-bills dramatically lowered.  For his services, he requires clients to pay him a fee of half the savings and donate to the political candidate of his choice.  By publicly proclaiming (and in some instances advertising) his close “relationships” with county employees inside the L.A County Assessors office, Salari has reportedly made millions of dollars by reducing the tax bill’s for owners of strip-malls, shopping centers and apartment buildings.

With the alleged assistance of L.A County Assessor Noguez, a close friend, Salari has apparently helped get property tax bills cut in half for his clients.  By petitioning the County, with some apparent inside support from Noguez, Salari has successfully gotten tax assessments reduced regardless of the recommendations of certified county appraisers.

In a slow economy, and with property values down about 30% in L.A. County since the height of the market in 2007, it seems normal that commercial properties should be able to lower their assessed tax liability.

However, the relationship between Salari and Noguez (based on reporting by the L.A. Times) appears to show that these property-tax cuts are more about exchanging special favors in return for campaign donations.

Noguez, rumored to be a front-runner to run for Mayor of Los Angeles after Antonio Villaragosa’s term ends in 2014, appears to be exchanging preferred property tax assessments for future campaign contributions.

Supporting these claims of impropriety are statements recently made by Dave Zoraster.

Zoraster, a former county employee and businessman began his property-appraisal career at the Los Angeles County assessor’s office in the 1970s.  For 33 years he worked with CB Richard Ellis – one of the largest commercial real-estate firms in the country.  After rising to vice president at Ellis, Zoraster was asked by Noguez to come back to the County assessor’s office and help “clean-up” the department.  However, Zoraster resigned 3 months ago in protest of being removed from two cases in which he opposed massive tax breaks.  Not coincidentally, feels Zoraster, these two cases were for applications filed by a businessman who financially supported Noguez’s 2010 campaign for the office.

The paper-trail may not yet be definitive.  Noguez may be able to keep this story buried and keep his job as L.A. County assessor.  One day, he may even be the Mayor of Los Angeles.  However, for the outside observer like myself, who also has a disgruntled friend currently working inside the L.A. County Assessor’s Office, it seem pretty obvious that something unethical and possibly illegal has been occurring over the last two years between Noguez and Salari.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 25, 2012

I don’t like Netflix as much today-

Although I had publicly expressed my happiness with Netflix about a month ago here, today I like the company a little bit less.

I do home loans for a living.  After a particularly hard transaction that closed this last week, I wanted to give a Netflix subscription to the client as a closing gift.  The client, in the first few months of home-ownership, is going to be strapped for a cash due to the arrival of a new baby.

I thought that giving a 6-month subscription to Netflix would be a nice way to say thank you for finding me on YELP! and sticking with me throughout the transaction.  I thought my favorite little red envelopes would be a great way to help a stay-at-home mom keep her sanity.

Unfortunately, in a strategic attempt to drive new subscribers away from DVD delivery, Netflix will only allow me to give the gift of “streaming”.  DVD deliver, as a gift option, is out.

Not knowing if my client own a streaming Blue-ray player… it didn’t make a lick of sense to gift a subscription to a service they may not be able to use.

So lame.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 25, 2012

Movie review – Act of Valor

As a Veteran of the Army, and someone who had aspirations of joining Special Forces prior to getting burnt out on the drudgery of Fort Riley Kansas, I’m a sucker for movies like Act of Valor.

Alive, dead, maimed or celebrated as a hero – there is a small part of me who wishes I would have stayed the course and made an honest run at making Special Forces back in 1999 when I was in amazing shape.  Maybe I would have made it onto a team like my buddy Sgt. McGlassen, maybe I would have tweaked my ankle during the selection process like my buddy Sgt. Gabriel and washed out, or maybe I would have stayed on as an active duty infantry man and gotten my leg blown to bits like my buddy Sgt. Roberts.  As it is, I separated from the military with an honorable discharge in 2000 right before the tempo of the US military went into overdrive.  My life clearly took a different path and for the most part I’m happy with my decision.

Movies like this give me a peak into what might have been.

The film Act of Valor follows a fairly formulaic plot.  Bad guy has a new and devastating type of weapon that will be unleashed against America within days.  A bad-ass group of American super soldiers intervene.

The amazing part about this movie is that all the bad-ass soldiers are actually real-life bad-ass soldiers.  The cast consists primarily of active duty and retired Navy Seals.  The story about how this movie came to be keeps changing as it gains in popularity.  I’ve heard varying stories about it starting out as a promotional video for the Navy, a training video and/or a 10 minute short film to inspire our troops or a low budget full feature film.   No matter what the reason for this film getting made, I’m glad it was.

Right now Americans have a bit of soft spot in our heart for the Navy Seals.  Since the daring and successful raid to kill Osama Bin Laden by Seal Team 6 last year, the country has been experiencing some sort of worship syndrome as it pertains to our U.S. Special Forces. This movie will definitely reinforce those feelings.

In the real world, politicians, tired of answering questions about financing two wars and the body count associated with full-scale invasions, have started to rely more-and-more on citing the small operations of “Special Forces” as the future of warfare.   This movie shows a fictionalized scenario where that might become a reality.

The acting and delivery of much of the dialogue is average or just plain bad.  However, I was able to overlook it as I’m sure the “actors” didn’t have much time to fit in acting classes between learning to scuba-dive, sky-dive and fire every weapon known to man as real-life Navy Seals are required to do.

As expected, the action scenes are extremely realistic.  There are several scenes where the cinematography switches to a first person shooter view, just like a video game.  Clearing rooms in an enemy strong-hold or returning fire at the bad-guys, the movie-goer sees the action from right over the M-4 crosshairs.  By hearing the chaos of war alongside the controlled breathing of the soldier, the audience is drawn into the action in a way I’ve rarely experienced in a movie.

The plot is good enough to move the movie along at a solid pace.  The two main bad-guys are unbelievable at best and laughable at their worst – oh well.  The relationship between soldiers is great and I wish it would have been explored a bit more.  A crying wife doesn’t mean very much to me if the relationship between characters hasn’t been developed, but maybe I’m asking too much out of this film.

At times the movie comes off as a recruiting tool for the Navy Seals, but overall I enjoyed it and found myself shedding a tear a couple of times throughout the film.

Definitely worth seeing on the big-screen.

Here is the trailer for Act of Valor:

And just in case you missed it, here is Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn playing Navy Seals in one my favorite films from the 80’s.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 14, 2012

Rosie O’Donnell is pretty disgusting

Let us get this out of the way up front.  I have a foul mouth.  I’ve told racist and sexist jokes in the past.  I’ve told jokes about little people before.  I’ve said a lot of foul stuff in my life and frankly I don’t have much of a verbal filter once I get away from my place of work.  I’m pretty much an equal opportunity offender when it comes to making inappropriate comments.

However, unlike Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea Handler, I haven’t made millions of dollars by hosting a daytime talk show.  I’m not a public figure.  I haven’t rallied my viewers against certain people due to their video-taped gaffes, public comments on race or sexuality, and I definitely don’t claim to be a champion of human rights.

Watch the following exchange between Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea Handler.  Can you imagine if this exchange had occurred between two conservative males and we substituted the worlds little-person for the words African-Americans or homosexual.

Just imagine the public backlash against Rosie and Chelsea had the exchange gone something like this and focused on racial or sexual stereotypes instead of the fear of little-people:

“…I’m a little ashamed about it, but I’m going to say it anyway.  I have a mild fear or anxiety around blacks (or gays / insert any other minority group here)…”   Rosie

“… No, I’ve never dated an African-American, that would be animal abuse (or child abuse / insert any other offensive stereotype here)…”  Chelsea

Because this conversation occurred between two liberal women, and since they were only marginalizing little-people (and not some other ‘favored’ minority group), these comments have been pretty much gone ignored by the general public.

Compare this to the comments Juan Williams made that set off a national media firestorm, got him fired from NPR and created a backlash against ‘racist’ Republicans.

“… I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous…”

Jeez, I wonder why Republicans feel there is a media bias in this country?

 

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 14, 2012

Payroll tax holiday sticks it to new home-buyers

It never ceases to amaze me how good the government is at switching around revenue generating activity in order to make one group feel good about themselves while simultaneously sticking it to a less-aware group of citizens.   Taxes are taxes.  Fees are fees.  It’s all money that comes out of the economy no matter how you shift it around.

The most recent example of this is the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011.  This Tax Cut extended the 2% payroll tax “holiday” of 2011 into the first two months of 2012.

Sadly, to offset the  $20 billion cost of the payroll tax cut extension, Congress has increased a lesser known “Guarantee-fee” charged by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHA.

This new shifting of revenue mandates that the fee must rise by at least 10 basis points (o.01%) on every loan that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA insure or purchase.

This increase to the  g-fee, as it’s called through the industry, is now affecting borrowers who are attempting to lock-in their mortgage rate for 45 days or more on purchase or refinance transactions.

With buyers generally excited about mortgage rates that are hovering at around 4% for a 30 year fixed, the Government knows it can sneak in these fees without upsetting voters or raising suspicion as to how this revenue is being generated.

Paying an extra 10 basis points, or roughly 1/8th of a point over the life of a mortgage loan is not a trivial amount of money.  On a $400,000 mortgage (about average here in Southern California) this interest rate hike will result in roughly $400 ya ear being taken out of the pockets of new home-owners.

As recently noted by the Wallstreet Journal, the total cost of these rising g-fees far surpasses the few hundred dollars an average taxpayer will save with a 2-month extension of the payroll tax cut.  Additionally, with this cost being baked into residential mortgages, it will be an added tax on home-owners for up to 30 years.

With the housing market still struggling throughout much of the country, this is not a cost the government should have added to the mortgage process.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 14, 2012

Obama is going to win in 2012

Without having to read his entire article, which I recommend you do here, my friend Andrew over at the Great Thoughts blog recently wrote several paragraphs explaining how Obama’s re-election will probably play out.  he believes that due to the weak field of Presidential candidates currently being offered up by Republicans Obama will probably win the 2012 Presidential election fairly easily.

For once, I totally agree with him.

As early as late 2010 I was telling some close friends of mine that there is no way Obama loses in 2012.  Unemployment at 8% or 12%, it doesn’t matter.  I believe the American public is too ignorant to not re-elect Obama.  There are plenty of smart democrats and smart republicans.  However, there are a whole lot of dumb people in the middle who cast their vote without ever thinking on the second level.

It will be easy for Obama to campaign on victories such as dropping unemployment (although that’s not really true if you dive into the numbers), the economy rebounding (although that really is not true either), his success in the middle east and the killing of Osama Bin Laden (although Obama basically just followed the Bush/McCain plan to fruition) and don’t forget about his trump card “It’s still all Bush’s fault” (although the root of many of our financial problems really saw their seeds planted during the Clinton administrations final few years).

Although Santorum is the new hip flavor of the week, Romney will probably win the nomination.  He will put up a good fight and probably even win some debates.  But there is no way a 1%’er is getting elected in this campaign cycle.

In a nationwide electorate which is basically split 50/50 – Obama will do just enough to win.  He can probably count on getting 95% of the African-American vote (again), 60% of independents voters who are willing to give Obama another chance (which may or may-not have something to do with ‘white-guilt-syndrome‘), and 65% of the popular vote in states like California (where we are so naive we don’t even realize that the ideals of Obama have already been test-driven on our state – and all it has created is a bankrupted entity that hides behind government debt loads that are unsustainable).

Obama will win and that’s that.

What will be more interesting is if in 2016 a strong candidate like Bobby Jindal will emerge and lead the country in a revolution to cut spending and become competitive on a world-wide stage yet again.  My fear is that four more years of Obama may damage us beyond repair.  China will continue to press forward with their 100 year plan to become the dominate country in the world and my children (or grand children) will envision a red flag with yellow stars when they hear the term “world super power”.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 14, 2012

Movie review – Safe House

With Safe House, you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting.

If Training Day and The Bourne Identity had a love-child, it would be named Safe House.

  • Newbie on the job and reluctant hero  – check
  • Denzel being a bad guy you really want to root for and a total bad-ass – check
  • Young white kid with rock-hard abs learning a thing or two from the aging and slightly chubby veteran – check
  • Cool location shoots in a major city 99% of us will never visit  – check
  • Evil CIA henchmen who are “really” behind the entire mess – check
  • Motion camera action scenes with bad-ass fight sequences – check, check and check

The movie was a lot of fun.  Had tons of cool yet fairly unbelievable action sequences.  Cast was awesome.  Obligatory hot foreign chic was in fact… hot.

In fairness my buddy Ty did point out something weird about the film.  There is a disjointed sense throughout the film as to whether Denzel and Reynold’s characters are partnering up or trying to split up.  It does seem odd at times, but only if you decide to analyze the film versus just sitting back and enjoying it.

This is the type of movie I needed to tide me over until the summer blockbusters start to hit.

Posted by: Scott Groves | February 14, 2012

Susan Komen Foundation-

Much has been written over the last two weeks about the Susan Komen Foundation’s decision to stop donating to Planned Parenthood, the fallout from this decision and their half-hearted reversal of their original decision.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it.

The bottom line is this.  I don’t care how the Susan Komen Foundation chooses to spend its money.  If they want to donate $600,000 a year to an organization which doesn’t carry out the foundation’s primary mission of breast cancer screening and research, I don’t care.  I’ve never been on the board of the foundation, never will be and haven’t donated to them.  So it doesn’t matter to me.

What I do take issue with is political or ideological morons attacking the foundation via computer hackers, false articles about the foundation and a nationwide push to get politicians to bully a private foundation into deciding how they spend their money.

Imagine the following scenario.  As a private individual who makes a good living as a lender, my business partner and I decide  in 2001 to start donating a couple thousand dollars a year to a private group like the Boy Scouts.  From 2001 to 2007 I give $2,000 a year to a Boy Scout Troop in a low-income area in hopes of allowing under privileged young men to have better outdoor opportunities.  In 2007 the economy crashes and its way harder for my team and I to make money.  Also, we aren’t big fans of the new Boy Scout leadership within the troop and don’t really like the way my donations are being spent.  Turns out I want to donate to the local speech-and-debate club instead.  I feel that would be a better spot for my donations.

What the Boy Scout Troop should say is “thank you so much for your previous donations and past support.  It’s helped a ton of young men and we hope one day you reconsider and come back to us with additional support.  Let us know what we can do to make you feel comfortable in donating to our  cause sometime in the future.  Thanks again.”

Unfortunately, politicians and liberals appear to think that in my example, the Boy Scouts should do the following.

  • Threaten me
  • Encourage everyone in the neighborhood to never use me for business again
  • Destroy my business website
  • Hack my email and Facebook account
  • Call me a racist
  • Call me a liar
  • Get a local politician to bully me into continuing my donations “or else”

This is another classic example of why the Government should get out of everyone’s business.  The Federal Government should work on solving the financial and national security issues they were actually elected to oversee and stay out of choosing sides when it comes to private enterprise.

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