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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Long Beach 1st City Council District Endorsement

Some time ago I spoke with Robert Garcia and asked him if he was going to run for the 1st District Council seat in Long Beach; at the time Bonnie Lowenthal still held the seat and had made no announcement concerning her pursuing the seat she now holds in the California Assembly. Garcia, in his affable manner, gave a chuckle and said something to the effect of, "We'll see what the future holds." I knew then he would pursue the position when it became available. Not long after that Garcia contacted several friends and colleagues and indicated he would be running for the seat, either if Lowenthal (Bonnie) was elected to higher office and vacated the seat, or when she would be termed out. At that time I told Garcia I supported him.

My relationship with Garcia goes back several years to when he participated in the Leadership Long Beach program, at the time working as the assistant to my friend Gina Rushing, President of St. Anthony High School in Long Beach. As I came to know him better through the years my first impressions of Garcia were hardened, he is very bright, he is extremely friendly, he cares about Long Beach, he is a great guy and a good man. All of these are great character traits, ones we want in our friends and ideally our leaders; but when it comes to electing our policy makers good character, while important, should not be our sole determining factor.

Last week I saw news that the union that represents approximately 4,000 of the employees of the City of Long Beach (International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers --IMA) was interviewing the candidates for the Long Beach 1st District Council seat for the purposes of making an endorsement. As part of the process the IMA was requiring candidates to sign a "pledge" (posted here on candidate Rick Berry's site) which among other items has the signer to pledge to support the non-democratic process of "card check" to establish unions, and to encourage and support unionization of businesses in the city. By signing the pledge an individual is aligning him- or herself with the union's ideology and practices, essentially forming an alliance with the union. Once signed it seems the union would have a right to use the pledge as an instrument at a later date to influence, or encourage, an elected individual to stand by their word and signature--whether they endorsed that individual or not. Robert Garcia signed this pledge, and therefore agreed to align with the IMA and those principles laid out in its pledge.

Because of his signing of this pledge, along with his solicitation of the IMA endorsement to accompany the endorsements he had previously received from both the Fire and Police Associations in Long Beach, I cannot support Garcia's candidacy for the 1st District seat.

The City Council is the employer for the City of Long Beach, while the office of the City Manager negotiates the contracts with the various unions and individuals, ultimately it is the City Council that approves contracts and budgets that are impacted by those agreements. As such members of council, and members of the city negotiating team(s), must have an adversarial relationship with those whom they employ to ensure they are doing their job: negotiate the best possible position for the City of Long Beach and its residents. Members of council are not there to represent and work for the employees of the city, they are not to negotiate and approve contracts that in the best interests of the employees, they are there to represent the voters and citizens of Long Beach and negotiate and approve contracts that are in the best interest of those citizens.

By accepting union funds for campaigns and pandering to them for political endorsements (which come with volunteers and free campaign mailers, phone banks and other campaign efforts) candidates are aligning with the employees and tacitly telling the citizens when it comes time to vote their interests lie with the employees not the citizens. The majority of our current council, and previous councils, have had these same endorsements, and voted for budget after budget increasing salaries and benefits that have strapped our city financially. It is time to break the cycle and not elect the candidate with the city employee union’s support.

The political history of our city shows a stepping stone of city council members creating labor-friendly legislation and votes subsequently getting support and contributions from statewide labor organizations to win their seats in Sacramento. From Lowenthals (Alan and Bonnie), to Oropeza to Richardson those who have the backing of the labor unions win elections--just ask Jenny Oropeza who lost her bid for Congress because of one vote in Sacramento that was against the unions’ wishes; they then supported Richardson with significant donations and she won the seat.

Political calculus and term limits suggest that Garcia is set up perfectly to run for Lowenthal's (Bonnie) seat in the Assembly in eight years when both are termed out, if elected, and can do so with the support of the labor unions--if he plays his cards right. With a very bright political future can Garcia not afford to keep his eye on future donations from the single biggest predictor of election victory in Long Beach, labor union support?

Long Beach, like the State of California, is facing serious financial deficits – deficits which will require cuts in programs, funding of projects and employment costs. Long Beach cannot afford more members of council who are beholden to their employees for their offices--we must have independent members of council if we are to solve our financial problems.

Because he did not sign the pledge, and also because of his views on the purpose of City government, the ideas he has to improve our fiscal standing and his relative independence from interest groups in the city, I endorse Rick Berry for Long Beach 1st Council District.
I encourage those in the 1st Council District to show the rest of the city that "change" really is what will happen in this election--vote for the candidate who is not like your previous member of council, is not beholden to the same special interests that directly benefit from the budget he will be voting on, is willing to challenge the status quo at City Hall. Vote for Rick Berry for 1st District City Council.

There are those cynics who will feel my endorsement of Berry and not Garcia is somehow connected to my leaving the Long Beach Post. Let me assure you the two are unrelated, I have had no conversations or communication with Garcia about the Long Beach Post since perhaps late November. This decision was made after, and independently of my decision to leave the Long Beach Post.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stimulus? Try Democratic Pork.

Photo courtesy of

Leading up to his inauguration President Obama was urging Congress, his Congress with his party in the majority, to put together an "economic stimulus" package that he could sign as soon as possible after his taking office. He wanted a package that would create millions of jobs, that would provide funds for infrastructure improvement and creation and provide millions of jobs, he wanted investment (i.e. spending) in health care and education. He wanted tax cuts (i.e. rebates) for the middle and lower class. What Congress is passing instead is not "stimulus" but pork. Furthermore it will have almost no impact on our current economy but instead will burden future economies with more debt, more public payrolls and more taxes to fund the $825 billion being proposed.

Throughout the Bush Administration the Democrats and media have referred to the Congressional Budget Office (labelled as a non-partisan body for analyzing spending and taxation) and their analysis of every budget and proposal put forth by the Bush White House or Republicans in Congress as the expert, unbiased analysis of what was wrong--let's see if they still have the same attitude to towards the CBO since it is deeply critical of the "stimulus" package being shoved through Congress by the Democrats.

First, the CBO says in its Critical Alert that most of the "stimulus" package money will not be spent until the current recession is over. According to their analysis only 7% (seven percent) of the funds for discretionary spending will be spent by the end of the current fiscal year and only 38% will be allocated, not spent but allocated, by the end of the fiscal year 2010. That means that over $540 Billion will be spent in 2011 and beyond.

Guess what? There is another Presidential election in 2012, guess when the campaigning for that election begins? About the same time the $540 billion will be doled out to pet projects and lobbyists targets in communities throughout America--but most likely those that are swing states. Coincidence that the timing of the allocation and spending is parallel to the next Presidential election cycle? There is no such thing as coincidence in politics--or government spending.

A major talking point for Obama has been "investment in infrastructure" as part of any plan, but this plan does not have as the major spending part funds for infrastructure. If Obama wants spending for infrastructure, and he is serious and honest about his "no pork" policy, then he should send to Congress a proposal for spending that is only for roads, bridges, ports and other public infrastructure projects to be allocated, spent and completed in the next five years. If the infrastructure spending is a talking point to get the public behind the non-stimulus portion of the spending then he has misled the country before taking office.

According to the CBO report that with no "stimulus" package the economy will see moderate growth in 2010 after bottoming out about mid-2009. Therefore no stimulus spending is needed from Washington. What is needed as far as the Democrats are concerned is more federal spending and control over healthcare, education and welfare--and this package delivers under the guise of "stimulus."

Please let me know how using $136 billion of the bill (37%) creating thirty-two new social programs will create jobs and stimulate the economy? How does $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts create jobs? Why would we give $6 billion to companies that are already expanding broadband services so they can expand broadband service? How do we "prepare our country for universal health care" by spending $600 million--and do we want universal health care? These are just a few of the hundreds, thousands, of items shoved into this "stimulus" package that have nothing to do with stimulus.

Because most of this money will be spent after the current recession is over it will have an incredibly inflationary impact on our economy. There is already over $1 trillion that has been injected into the economy by the government through the first bailout and other spending the past seven to eight months, adding an additional $1 trillion to the money supply will create an incredibly inflationary economic environment. Combined with the substantial borrowing the Federal Government will have to do in order to pay for the new spending the combination of government borrowing and inflation will put substantial pressure on interest rates and we are in danger of seeing them climb to highs not seen since the end of the Carter and beginning of the Reagan Administrations. This spending package will not solve any of our current economic problems and will create serious economic issues three to five years from now--but politicians do not care about the future beyond their next election and that is evident with this proposed bill.

Obama and his aides have said they want a bill that would create 3 million jobs and the bulk of the spending is to occur before 2011; the bill in its current form does neither. Even if it were to create 3 million jobs, at a cost of almost $900 billion that is spending $275,000 per job, or about $225,000 more than the average household income--not a good return on investment. The money would be better spent by eliminating almost all taxes for one year and letting Americans spend and save and invest the money in their local communities.

Obama either needs to pressure his Congress to change the bill, or veto it if it hits his desk in its current form--show Congress and the American people when he said change he meant it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

99 Cent Tacos and Clint Make For a Great Date!

Give me the late afternoon sun, a comfortable 1960s era steel porch chair that rocks a little and a cooler full of Pabst, and I still won't look one-tenth as cool and tough as Clint Eastwood. In Gran Torino we see a lot of Clint, as Walt Kowalski, on his porch. Sometimes with a cup of coffee and the paper, sometimes with some Pabsts, sometimes just smoking a cigarette, and sometimes with his M1 Garand rifle from his tour in Korea. Walt Kowalski is equal parts Archie Bunker and "Dirty" Harry Callahan, and Eastwood does an incredible job as actor and director blending the two into a sympathetic hero you want to dislike--similar to most of Eastwood's heroes through his career.

Last Tuesday night on Date Night Leslie and I went for the dinner and a movie on a budget. El Torito for Tuesday Tacos at only $0.99 each, Happy Hour brews and we were set with about a $15.00 dinner and then a short walk to the Cineplex for some Clint. The el cheapo taco at the El Torito is good, the service is not since Tuesday nights in the cantina are packed affairs with college students and cheapskates like me dining their ladies.

As for Gran Torino is definitely worth the price of admission. From Firstful of Dollars to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to the Dirty Harry series, Eastwood has always been the bad guy with his own set of rules that make sense and in doing so make him the good guy. As Walt Kowalski, Eastwood brings his rugged Western youth and his bad-ass-my-own-rules Dirty Harry Callahan together for a great performance. In today's world of over-sensitive political correctness Kowalski's 1970's racial bigotry and slurs come across as comedy and pathos. Many of my generation watching are reminded of parents or grandparents as they see Kowalski struggle with retirement, the loss of his spouse and more importantly the loss of his era. Much like Bunker, Kowalski struggles as he learns his labels do not fit his neighbors when he begins to know them as people; and while he clings to his outward predjudice his personal experiences manifest in the dramatic conclusion of the film.

What really put the movie over the top for me was Eastwood's co-stars portraying his Hmong neighbors. The scene where Ahney Her, playing Kowalski's young neighbor, is walking around her family's dining room table laden with food for a party, and fills Kowalski's plate while telling him about her culture is wonderful. Throughout the movie the unknown actors portraying the Hmong community carry this movie, and Eastwood, forward to its dramatic conclusion.

Hard to beat tasty ninety-nine cent tacos, especially when followed by Gran Torino. The only disappointment for me with the movie is that it has no nominations for any of the major Oscars; I feel it should be nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Eastwood) and Actress (Ahney Her) at a minimum. Perhaps the movie was hurt by the crude and racial language of Kowalski, if so nominees have missed the point of the movie.

This movie is worth not only the price of a ticket but also popcorn, soda and candy--for two.