Saturday, October 27, 2012

Philly Celebrates Halloween Early

Philadelphians have already started celebrating Halloween. Rittenhouse sponsored a trick or treat today. Local bars are sponsoring a Halloween parties.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why We Should Be Rooting for Blatstein's Casino

Developer Bart Blatstein is set to unveil his plans for a second casino Wednesday night. The local reaction has been muted when it should be excited. The dreams of developers are what transform a city. Until Willard Rouse fantasized about building a tower taller than William Penn, Philadelphia's skyline was rather stunted. Although it had financial troubles, Jack Blumenfeld's Abbot Square helped transform Society Hill.

The Inquirer' veteran business reporter Joe DiStefano asked in Philly Deals blog post if we really needed another casino when the Atlantic City and local casinos are floundering.

Blatstein is planning to spend $700 million to build a first class resort, which will target high end gamblers. The current casinos in Pennsylvania are not first class. The Valley Forge Casino Resort was advertising a room for $100 on Groupon this summer.

Blatstein can deliver a 5 star destination resort. He is the developer that turned Northern Liberties from a blighted area to the neighborhood that Esquire magazine named Night Life Capital of the US When my friends from Milan, Italy visited his Piazza at Schmidt's, they kept asking are you sure that he is not Italian. The recent security problems are a result of human nature not design flaws.

Some Atlantic City resorts, notably Revel, are top tier. The problem is that it is not easy to get to Atlantic City. Like many city dwellers, I do not have a car. My bus to the Tropicana this summer stopped 4 times before it reached its destination. There are few direct airplane flights to Atlantic City.

Once you get to Atlantic City, there is not much to do besides gambling. Visitors to Blatstein's resort will have all of Philadelphia, including the world class museums, theaters, restaurants, and stores, at their fingertips.

The Valley Forge Casino Resort thought that it would be successful because it is located in one of the richest counties in the country. The managers do not understand high rollers. Gamblers tend to be risk takers. The old money that dominates the Main Line is known for conserving their cash. Suburban family men are not usually sneaking out of their mansions to throw craps at the neighborhood casino. It is a guy's night out.

The $10 resort fee that the state mandates they charge is a turn off many gamblers. Gamblers often rationalize their losses by offsetting the perks that the casinos lavish on them.This rationalization falls apart when you have to pay $10 to enter the gambling hall.

A second casino in Philadelphia by a first class developer is a win for Philadelphia.

Stay tuned for my opinion of his plans.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Israeli Foreign Ministry Plays Politics With Livni Visit

During a meeting with then incoming deputy consul general of the Mid-Atlantic region, Elad Strohmayer, I suggested some Israeli speakers that it would be good for the Foreign Ministry to bring over. I wanted Americans to meet Israelis other than retired Generals. One of my suggestions was Shelly Yachimovich, a current member of the Knesset and leader of the Labor party. I felt that she would appeal to feminists due to her long history of fighting for women's rights.

Strohmayer said, "That will not happen. She is the leader of the opposition."

Initially, I recalled the old joke -"Thank God for the Arabs. Without them, the Israelis would kill each other".

Upon reflection, Stohmayer's comment made me realize that human rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz and many other pro-Israel supporters are correct to argue that the foreign ministry must become non-political. The non-political advocates want the Israeli Foreign Ministry removed from the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office to the President's Office.

The Foreign Ministry should not be just promoting the visits of Israeli dignitaries from the prime minister's own party while ignoring those from rival parties. But that is exactly what happened recently at the Israeli Consulate of the Mid-Atlantic Region.

The American-Israel Friendship League brought Deputy Knesset Speaker Shlomo Molla, who is Ethiopian, to Philadelphia in September The local Israeli consulate press officer Michelle Miller, put out several press releases, including one on August 28, announcing the visit of Molla, who is a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party. They arranged interviews for him and highlighted his visit in several of their weekly newsletters.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Philadelphia this week to speak at a Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces Gala. This worthwhile organization provides soldiers everything from medical care to college tuition. There is nothing more essential to Israeli interests than a strong military.

It has been a long time since a person of Livni's stature has come to Philadelphia. Besides almost becoming Israeli Prime Minister, Livni descends from Israeli aristocracy. Her parents were freedom fighters of the Irgun, the pre-state paramilitary organization. Israeli officials usually only stop in New York, Washington, or Los Angeles.

Yet, I heard nothing about her visit from the Israeli consulate. Her visit  to the area was also not mentioned in the weekly newsletter of the consulate.

I have to attribute this glaring oversight of the Israeli consulate to the press speculation that she might run against current Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The consulate's neglect hurts the State of Israel. If the consulate had arranged interviews etc, Livni would have presented a much different image of Israel and Israeli politicians than most Philadelphians typically see.

I did contact the consulate to ask what happened, but I have not heard from anyone.

Philadelphia Society Dresses Up to Welcome Yannick

Philadelphia society and Mayor Nutter officially welcomed the new musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra Yannick Nezet-Seguin to Philadelphia during last night's opening night for the orchestra. Philadelphians had high hopes for their new, youthful music director. Yannick did not disappoint. 

Last night's program featured Renee Fleming, one of the world's greatest living sopranos, and an energetic Yannick conducting Ravel, Brahms, and Strauss.The music flowed so beautifully it seemed as if Yannick had been at the helm of the orchestra forever. The joie de vivre on stage meant that the turmoil of the orchestra's bankruptcy is now in the past. 

I would be negligent if I did not mention the hard work of the musicians of the Orchestra. They will not be toiling in obscurity for much longer. The Kimmel Center and the Orchestra are creating an exhibit featuring all the musicians. This recognition is long overdue. 

Sidney and Caroline Kimmel, who flew in from California,  DJ Jerry Blavat, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest attended the gala that was held in the lobby of the Kimmel Center yesterday. 

Only real men can wear kilts.

Somebody not afraid to show that she came to party.

Ivy Silver and Steve Leshner

Kimmel Center CEO Ann Ewers and her husband

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Entourage" Creator Doug Ellin Discusses Upcoming Movie

A unshaven, casually dressed Doug Ellin, creator of "Entourage," discusses the upcoming "Entourage" movie during a talk sponsored by the Rudman Institute at the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design of Drexel University. He just finished the script for the movie two days ago. He expects the movie to start filming in May. If they are lucky, the movie will be shown the following summer.

"The movie will be similar to seasons one and two - lots of pot smoking and sex."

He expressed his frustration at working with HBO. He only made $50,000 during the two and half years that   "Entourage" was in development.

"I must have written 70 drafts for the script of the pilot. They kept dangling carrots. We like page 8 or this line," he recalled.

He reserved special animus for the female executives at HBO.

"The female HBO executives were always telling me that guys do not talk the way the way the script is written. They were brutal. After a phone call during filming, I was so demoralized that I had to sit down on the coach," said Ellin.

After a student question, he confessed that Gary Busey was as crazy as he seems.

"Busey told me he was not going to say my words but the meaning," he said. "In other incident, he asked Kevin Connolly at the premiere of the new season, "Did we work on anything together? Connolly answered, "Yes, this."

In real life, Doug Ellin is a prude. He had never seen any of Sasha Grey's movies before she was in Sondbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience." He claims to had to google her. However, he had no problem recounting how he asked Jamie-Lynn Sigler if she would be willing to give Turtle a blow job on the plane.

He stayed late to talk to students, pose for pictures, and sign autographs. He offered to sign SB sneakers for one lucky student. Earlier in the day, he ate a sandwich at Tony Luke's.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Streisand: From Funny Girl To Funny Momma

Superstar Barbra Streisand opened her "Back to Brooklyn" tour with a spectacular concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Accompanied by a great orchestra, she belted out in top form many of her old hits such as "The Way We Were, which she dedicated to the memory of her frequent collaborator Marvin Hamlisch, and "The Way He Makes Me Feel" from Ynetl. Her voice and cleavage were better than many of the stars, who are half her age, that are currently touring,

On October 11 and 13, she returns to perform for the first time in her hometown of Brooklyn at the Barclays Center for the first time.

We saw a new Barbra on stage tonight- Funny Girl has matured into Funny Momma. Jason Gould, her son by actor Elliot Gould, joined her on stage for his public performance as a singer. She introduced him to her loyal fans with a short movie that he made for her 70th birthday. It was a beautiful montage of pictures of them together through the years accompanied by his singing a song that he had written.

A star was born last night. He is already being compared to Josh Groban. He more than held his own in a duet of “How Deep Is the Ocean” with his superstar mother. The proud mother sat on the steps kvelling while her son performed solo.

"I will be right over here if you need me, but I know you won't," she said as she sat down.
Streisand was joined on stage by acclaimed trumpeter Chris Botti. She met Botti where all superstars meet.
Barbra said, “I am not one to drop addresses. I kept running into Botti at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House.”

Il Volo, the trio of Italian tenor/studs, are also performing with Barbra. When they exited stage right to great applause, she joked, "Take that Justin Bieber."

One very intimate part of the concert was the Ask Barbra segment. Before the concert, fans could stop by a booth and write down questions for the superstar to answer on stage.

One concertgoer asked what Streisand thought about Romney eliminating Big Bird? At first, she hesitated.

Babs, a longtime Democrat, said, "I love Big Bird. I was not going to talk about politics tonight."

Then she could not resist. "I hope Romney never finds Sesame Street or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," she said. "How about that debate? Romney sounded like a proper Democrat.”

Streisand ended her concert with a plea to save the planet. She retold one of her favorite proverbs- A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never sit in. We need to start planning for our children and grandchildren.

She said, "We are a land of lush forests and blue oceans, but we keep cutting down the trees and polluting the waters."

Offstage, Barbra has been campaigning to fight women’s heart disease. Streisand has donated $10 million to the Cedar-Sinai’s Women’s Heart Center. She has raised more than $10 million from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Sumner Redstone, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, Ricki and Ralph Lauren, and Ron Perelman for the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Former President Clinton, who has suffered from heart disease, attended a star studded fundraiser at her Malibu Beach House. Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard, who won a Uri Geller contest, performed. At that event, Cedars-Sinai announced that they were renaming the center in her honor.

Streisand explained why she is fight against women’s heart disease means so much to her. “Why am I here … because I can’t stand inequality…,” she said. “Whether it is about civil rights, gay rights, or gender discrimination.  This was long before I made “Ynetl, which is about a women’s struggle in a man’s world, or the war on women that is being talked about now.

She first learned about the issue when a close male friend was being treated by Dr. Noel Bairey Merz. The doctor was able to reverse his heart disease with open heart surgery.

“I like to think that I am sort of well informed, but I was shocked to learn that heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined and that more women die annually from heart disease,” Streisand said.” Last year, in the United States alone, nearly 500,000 women died from it.”

Yet, most of the research in heart disease is done on men and very little money is allocated to research specifically on women’s heart disease.

Streisand said, “The only message that sends is that even in scientific research, women are still treated as second-class citizens. “That is unacceptable.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Barbra Streisand "Stunning" at Dress Rehearsal

Sources tell me that Barbra Streisand was "stunning" at her dress rehearsal for Monday's night tour opening performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. After rehearing all week at Temple's Liacouras Center, she performed for her 500 of her nearest and dearest for nearly three hours this afternoon. Carole Radziwill of Real Housewives of New York City, former "Biggest Loser" host Caroline Rhea, who described Streisand as "phenomenal," and Pat Ciarocchi of CBS were some of the invited guests. 

Trumpeter Chris Botti and tenor hearthrobs Il Volo accompanied the songstress.

In a poignant moment, she dedicated the song "The Way We Were" to her good friend and frequent collaborator Marvin Hamlisch, who died this year. The diva made 5 costume changes, which included a sequined Brooklyn Dodgers baseball shirt. After opening in Philadelphia, the Brooklyn born star returns home to play at the recently opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Jason Gould, her son, performed with her at the dress rehearsal. His proud mother has described him as "having a chamber music orchestra in his vocal chords". She is hoping to record a duet album with him.

Today's performance was his first time singing in public. Monday night's concert in Philadelphia will probably be his public debut. 

There are still a few tickets left for Monday's night concert, which is promising to be unforgettable evening.  This will probably be her last tour as well as her first performing with her son.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

76ers Owners Could Face Criminal Charges

The local media has eagerly touted the vast wealth, hard partying ways, and Republican politics of the new owners of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, Apollo Global Management senior management director Joshua Harris and Sun Capital co-founder Marc Leder. Yet, they have ignored the potentially explosive probe of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman into the NONPAYMENT of taxes on management fees by their private equity firms. Two of the most prominent private equity firms, Carlyle and Blackstone, do not use this strategy because they deemed it "improper".

While the debate over carried interest's taxes is too esoteric and for many to follow, this tax story is pretty simple. According to the New York Times Apollo has NOT paid ANY taxes on $133 million in fees by reinvesting the fees back into their funds. At the same time, the firm has the audacity to claim this money as income in SEC filings so that investors will see that the firm has substantial fee income.

Victor Fleisher, a professor of law at the University of Colorado, has campaigned to make private equity pay their fair share of taxes. He explained their tax avoidance strategy this way:

The basic scheme is to waive the management fees, which are then used to make a pre-tax investment in the fund.  The problem is that under current law, the receipt of the interest in the fund is probably taxable to the managers, and even if it isn't there's a code section that probably re-characterizes the eventual gain as ordinary income.  The private equity guys are just counting on the IRS looking the other way."

The chief financial correspondent of the Times, Floyd Norris, lambasted the current practice of private equity billionaires. He wrote, "It is hard for me to see the difference between that and an arrangement under which my employer invested, on my behalf, money that it would otherwise have to pay me for writing this column. Then I would tell the I.R.S. that I owed no taxes until I liquidated the investment and even then would pay only capital gains rates."

He continued, "If I tried that, I could not get away with it. If the law lets those who work in private equity do it, Congress should change the law."

In a follow up phone call, Norris, whose knowledge of accounting issues is so respected that he was asked to serve on the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board after Enron's collapse, told me that if he worked at the I.R.S that he would be seriously looking at this. He acknowledged that one of the tax agency's hesitations might be that the firms have plenty of money for a sustained fight. 

He did caution, "We will not know if the IRS actually did something unless they issue a ruling or one of the defendants fights back in tax court. 

Feisty New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, whom American Prospect magazine named "The Man the Banks Fear Most," may force the hand of the IRS. He has recently issued civil subpoenas to Bain, Apollo, Sun Capital, Kohlberg Kravis and other private equity firms to investigate their tax treatment of management income. 

Charles Zehren, the imperious spokesman for Apollo Management, confirmed to me the receipt of the subpoenas by Apollo. (Zehren now denies saying yes when I asked him to confirm the subpoenas. I stand by my reporting. Multiple news accounts have confirmed that Apollo have confirmed that Apollo did receive the subpoenas.)

He then said, "We are not supposed to talk about that. Who told you about it?"

When I asked Rebecca Timms, who works in public relations at Seventy Sixers about the investigation, she said, "You had better talk to Michael Preston about this." Michael Preston, director of 76ers public relations never returned my calls or emails. 

The New York Attorney General's critics dismiss this as partisan politics because Schneiderman, a Democrat, subpoenaed the records of Bain, Mitt Romney's old firm. Sources close to Schneiderman's office defend the probe. 

"This is not about politics. This is all about increasing the tax receipts of New York State during a time of fiscal crisis."

Multiple sources insisted that Schneiderman intends to pursue criminal action against the private equity firms if it is warranted.

One said, "While the office has only issued civil subpoenas at this time and the investigation is in the earlier stages, it looks like the firms devised an elaborate scheme to avoid paying taxes that they are legally obligated to pay. They either treated the management fees as a return of capital in which case they never paid taxes on the money or they received an interest free loan from New York State allowing then to invest the entire pre-tax sum. To be clear, the New York Attorney General would need to a referral from another law enforcement agency, such as the District Attorney's office, to secure a criminal indictment."

Maybe, the Sixers should change their uniform to black and white stripes.