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Monday, August 31, 2009

LBUSD Needs To Delay Vacancy

On Tuesday September 1st the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education will convene in a regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda packet for the board meetings is rather lengthy, in this case fifty-four pages.

Typical of these meetings is a closed session to deal with discipline issues for students and personnel in a closed meeting, and a rather large consent calendar. For those unfamiliar with committee meetings, commissions and boards, consent calendars are used to save time and allow for quickly passing measures and items that are routine and typically are not subject to any controversy. Items such as disbursements, credentions, procedures, approving contracts, are placed on the consent calendar and in that way the board can vote to approve many items at once instead of having ten, twenty, fifty...separate items read and voted upon.

Following the closed session and the consent calendar on Tuesday the LBUSD Board of Education will get to item 24. New Business. There are three very interesting items under new business, first is whether the Board will approve the renewal of the charter for Constellation Community Charter School which has had its difficulties abiding by its charter in the view of the Board. After the Constellation renewal vote the Board will have this item:

Resolution No. 090109-B, Declaring A Vacancy in the Office of Board of Education Member, District 3.

The entire resolution can be found on page 51 of the agenda. To recap for those not in the Long Beach area, or those who are but have been on a desert island, District 3 of the LBUSD has had as its elected representative one Michael Shane Ellis. His election was very controversial due to his lack of residency, though approved by City Attorney for the ballot despite not have established 30 day residence in the district, his only being on the ballot because of his relationship with now fired Executive Director of the Teachers' Association of Long Beach, Scott McVarish, and his complete lack of relationship with our community. Ellis' tenure on the school board brought more publicity to the board than ever before due not only to his election showing the attempt by TALB to take control of the school board, but subsequent reports of his being fired from a prior teaching job due to drinking in front of students, his multiple arrests for alcohol related incidents, the District's inability to prove his residency and finally his failure to show at scheduled school board meetings. In the middle of all this members of the community, led by the Greater Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, attempted to recall Ellis but the effort failed due to lack of the required number of signatures to put the recall on the ballot.

In August Ellis taped to the office doors of the other elected members of the Board of Education a letter of resignation effective September 1, 2009. While the members of the board have been doing research to determine how to vacate Ellis' 3rd District seat, the letter of resignation appears to have solved their problem, and that of the community--he finally is giving up a seat he had no interest in retaining once his mentor and puppet master McVarish was forced out at TALB.

Now the District has a big problem. Like many municipal bodies it is suffering from severe financial difficulties, overwhelmingly because of the State of California and its inability to properly budget the past decade. Because of the pending vacancy of the 3rd District Seat it must declare a special election to fill the seat. What makes this pill particularly hard to swallow is that the 3rd District seat comes up for regular election on April 13, 2010. Because of the City Charter if the Board of Education declares the seat vacant on Tuesday it must call a special election to fill the seat within 120 days of the seat being declared vacant--provided the regularly scheduled election is not within 120 days of the seat being vacant.

The special election will cost the District approximately $200,000. That pays for a couple of teachers plus benefits, or a lot of dry erase markers. That is too much money for a broke district to spend to fill a seat for four or five months.

It is my opinion that the current members of the Board of Education should look to use procedural rules to not accept Ellis' resignation; vote to postpone the vote on Resolution No. 090109-B or vote to reject it. What happens if the vote to declare the seat vacant fails? What happens if the board votes to hold over the declaration? The City Charter says the election must be within 120 days of the seat being declared vacant but what if such a declaration is never made?

The current members of the Board of Education, District 1 Member and President of the Board Mary Stanton, District 2 Member Felton Williams, District 4 Member Jon Meyer and District 5 Member David Barton, are smart and responsible officials. They work with an excellent staff at LBUSD led by Superintendent Chris Steinhauser. On this matter they have received briefings and advice from the district legal department on interpretations of the various rules regarding Ellis. At this point the board needs to take what may be a risk, but for $200,000 seems to have a pretty good return--postpone the vacancy of Ellis' seat until December. At that time the seat can be declared vacant and be filled during the regularly scheduled elections which will also see Stanton and Barton up for re-election.

But what of the people of Ellis' District 3? Do they not deserve representation? Sure they do, and they elected a representative who abandoned them. They failed to sign petitions to recall the representative they had despite the numerous reports on his short-comings as their representative. Because of their poor decisions regarding Ellis it is expected that the entire District suffer a loss of $200,000? Much of the money in the LBUSD goes into the 3rd District as it encompasses some of the poorest areas of the City. The schools within the 3rd District have more special needs programs and assistance than the other LBUSD schools and because of this the $200,000 cost of the special election might disproportionally affect the 3rd District--in essence it is in their best interest as well to keep the seat vacant until the regularly scheduled election on April 13, 2010.

School board members are often great community members who feel the need to help their communities and serve on the board. It is a mostly thankless task, it does not have any of the publicity of a City Council or other elected body. Go to any campus and ask parents dropping off kids who their School Board representative is and almost all of them will not be able to answer. Ask most of the teachers who represents their school and most will be unable to answer. Generally the members do not think in political terms or find ways to skirt the laws while not breaking the laws--something more polished politicians become rather adept at doing. They read the law and follow it.

In this case it is my hope that for the greater good of the students, teacher and administrators of the entire Long Beach Unified School District that the Board of Education reads the law from a different perspective, with the perspective of what if we do not make any declaration of vacancy?


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Just Some Questions

Below are questions I have asked myself throughout the past week. Instead of writing what my answers to them would be I am interested in any answers you may have, or additional questions you have asked yourself.

For the week starting Monday August 24, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Why can you buy Coors Light in bars and restaurants locally by not Coors?

If every “competitor” surrounding your business is able to more than adequately accomplish the core aspect of the business with 25% less personnel why don’t you reduce your personnel as well?

If more power were pushed from the Federal government to the states would they be able to compete like the private sector for residents, businesses, jobs, etc?

If you can fly from Southern California to Northern California for about $50-75 how much would you pay to take a three hour train ride from SoCal to NoCal?

Has your business or industry been impacted by new Federal regulations in the past six to twelve months?

College football or NFL?

What is your smartest purchase in the past twelve months?

President Obama has said, and Sen. Landrieu (LA-D) has reiterated that illegal aliens will not/should not receive health benefits—then who pays the hospitals that have to treat them in their ERs when they show up for care?

What was right about your week?

How many drops in the bucket does it take to fill the bucket?

Which President saved passenger train service in the United States?

A question I asked the Leadership Long Beach class on Monday: It seems groups, organizations and committees are usually formed to fix problems someone sees, can you think of any that have been formed to keep something that is right and not a problem?

Kid #1 Question: Do you have kids?

If Congress is spending $2.4 billion per year on Amtrak to keep it running, how much government funding will be needed to keep a high speed rail between LA and San Francisco operating when customers can fly in half the time for less money than taking a train that costs of $3 billion to build?

Does Ted Kennedy become greater in death than he was while alive?

What is the longest you have stayed on hold? Was it worth it?

Can you imagine how crazy the anti-Bush crowd, led by the New York Times, would have been if his Administration took over control of interrogations of captured terrorists with a specially appointed group?

Is $246 million in tax breaks for movie producers to purchase film really stimulus or is it political payback for donations?

From friend Greg: How high would the pile be if you stacked up all the pages of laws and legislation that affect you and govern you?

Should the passage of the health care reform really be based upon the death of a Senator and not the facts in the bill?

Do you own a gun?

Instead of trying to squeeze more out of doctors and hospitals with their health care reform proposals why don’t Democrats go after tort reform to reduce costs?

Kid #2 Question: What was your favorite age when you were a kid?

How hot is too hot for you? How cold is too cold?

For those living in the Greater Long Beach area, are you aware that Orange and Los Angeles Counties are in discussions to move the border in the Long Beach region?

Cookies or Pie?

So those are the questions, what are your answers? Click on the comments button below and let us know what you think.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Home Health Care System to the Rescue!!

Who needs ObamaCare?

Who needs the provisions of HR3200?

Who needs Blue Cross or HealthNet?

When you are a minor, you and your dependents first come under the care of the Home Health Care System!

As Leslie describes in her great post "Long Live Dotty!" the HHCS handles surgeries and trauma right in the home!

Read the post and leave Leslie comments your HHCS stories!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Take The Stimulus Money Back

The news this summer has been very focussed on American citizens at townhall meetings. Some of the news diverts into showing just the screamers, while other reports show the questions being asked and statements being made. Almost all of the reports have been centered on health care reform and the people's objections to legislation currently working through the various committees of the House and Senate. Lost in the reporting is a very common message being given to members of Congress: stop spending money and creating massive debt for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

On Friday afternoon, with the President and the White House press corps A-Team out of town on holiday, the Administration issued an "oops" press release. It seems that its estimates of the budget deficits in the coming years was slightly off, only about 29%. Instead of the federal deficit reaching $7 trillion in ten years the White House acknowledged the numbers that have been put out by the Congressional Budget Office and said the number is more like $9 trillion--in the hole, negative, red ink.


So far this year the Treasury has been engaged in auctions of all of its bills and notes, 6 month, 1 year, 3 year, 7 year, 10 year. The auctions have actually gone quite well with significant bidders keeping the prices high and the yields low. Low yields when selling debt are important because when you start talking about hundreds of billions the smallest tick in rate costs hundreds of millions. When you are talking about a trillion a small tick is a billion. As of this writing the U.S. debt totals $11,719,060,925,865.86

One reason the Treasury debt auctions have gone well is because there have been plenty of foreign investors. As of June 2009 $3.4 trillion of U.S. Treasury Securities are held by foreign nations and investors. The interest payments on this $3.4 trillion approximates $25 billion per year, being paid to foreign investors, so far. Foreign investment accounts for approximately 30% of our national debt. While much is made of China's holding of U.S. treasury securities, and they own a lot at $776 billion through June, not too far behind China is Japan at $711 billion. What this means of course is that hundreds of millions of dollars per week are paid to both nations in interest payments.

Looking forward from the present there is great concern about the rapidly rising debt and treasury auctions since many of the auctions are used to refinance debt that is coming due. In six months the Treasury will have to pay off the 6 month bills issued this month, how? By auctioning on more bills and bonds. With our economy looking to be coming out of recession in the next six months we will see upward pressures on interest rates. Every one-quarter of one percent in interest rate (00.25%) the interest paid on $11.7 trillion goes up approximately $30 billion--that is the increase in payments.


Obviously the primary way to stop debt rising in the future is to stop borrowing today. Since we are talking about the U.S. government that is pretty much impossible, there will always be debt--the U.S. house will never be free from a mortgage. However what can be done is to control spending and reduce hindering future economies and generations with massive debt payments by limiting spending today.

As the current bills have piled up President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have touted that the payments of the bills will come from "the wealthiest among us." Specifically those making more than $250,000 as a family have been targeted as evidently not paying "enough" and will be called upon to pay higher taxes, and or have many tax deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions taken away from them. But how much of a dent can Americans making $250,000 or more put into a $9 trillion deficit? How many Americans will suddenly make $249,000 because they net more after taxes than if they make that extra $1000? Is it realistic to believe that our current spending will be paid by future Americans making above that magic threshold?

It is just as realistic as my proposal to help lower the future deficit and send a message to Americans that they have been heard this summer.


Upon returning from summer recess (aside: when you hear Congress is on recess do you picture them on slides and swings, they often act like children I picture them on recess like children), when they return Congress makes huge in-roads with Americans and perhaps gains back a little trust if their first order of business is to repeal the Stimulus Package passed in February for any funds that have not yet been sent out. It is not needed to stimulate the economy as evidence that only 10-15% of the funds have been spent or credited through tax cuts and the economy by almost all reports is on the road to recovery. If the purpose of the $787 billion was to boost and support the economy, and the economy is boosting and supporting without the money then do not spend it. Take it back.

Yes there will be communities through the country upset because their pork projects of renovation of dilapidated and unused rail stations will stay dilapidated, skate parks expansions will stay the same size, walkways will not be built around lakes and some will be stuck with the millions and millions of dollars of signs printed touting a project is being paid for by Federal Stimulus Funding. So what, let them be upset in the end pulling almost $700 billion in spending back into the budget will help reduce the current deficit and the future deficit.

Americans across the country are telling their Congressional representatives to please listen to their constituents, look at how much money has been flowing out of Washington and how much more is on the table--over $1 trillion for HR 3200 the health care reform bill that is the center of most of the debates. Now is a chance for Congress to tell the American people, "we hear you, we understand, we will not spend money that is not needed to be spent by the Federal government."

Were Congress to rescind the unspent stimulus funds and pass a motion to suspend HR 3200 until Congress and the White House are able to reform and make efficient the waste in Medicare and Medicaid, I think they would have a much better chance of passing step-by-step and methodical health care reform.

If I were a "Blue Dog Democrat" on the hot seat in November 2010 for the deficits being rung up I would certainly be touting saving $700 billion and be part of the first Congress to ever un-ring a spending bill.

Think it will happen?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Expanding The Size Of Government

In the past two decades Americans have seen all levels of their government expand rapidly. City, county, state and federal government budgets and powers have not just crept higher and stronger but have leaped. As I read, listen and watch the health care debate across the country one of the factors of the current proposal that concerns, in many cases frightens, many people is the huge leap it makes in expanding government.

Presidents Clinton and Bush both contributed to the expansion of the federal government, but their contributions to such expansion combined pale in comparison to what has happened--or is proposed--since January when President Obama took office. Of even greater concern is not just the expansion of the federal government but specifically the expansion of power of the Executive Branch.

With a $787 billion spending package passed in just a few weeks that was to stimulate the economy, and we were told create or save 3 million jobs, Obama quickly showed his power over members of Congress that created the Democratic majority. With over 90% of the stimulus money still not spent the impact of the stimulus package is non-existent as our economy still struggles, but the timing of the money hitting the economy will coincide with the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections . With that money hitting local economies while candidates will be stumping for votes, President Obama will be able to use his charisma and oratory skills to help re-elect any Democrats that may find themselves in trouble following whatever results from the health care reform debates and proposals.

That is normal political power that all past Presidents have typically been able to wield, or try to wield, in their terms of office. Generating even more power for his Administration and the Executive Branch is the ownership of three companies, GM, AIG and Chrylser. Two of the companies, GM and AIG, are the biggest in their industry in the United States. With major ownership stakes in these companies policies and regulations from a multitude of federal departments from the Department of Transportation, to Treasury to the Federal Reserve are all now impacted on how it affects U.S. investment in these companies. Rather than establish independent trustees to run the companies and act as stockholders by voting and controlling the stock as to how it might best benefit the companies and their profitability, the ownership interests are controlled by various "Czars" and members of the Obama Administration. The President of the United States has control of three major U.S. corporations, unprecedented in the history of our country.

Speaking of Czars, the current count in the Obama White House is 32 (list here). The benefit of creating a "Czar" is there is no confirmation from the Senate. The position is filled by appointment from the President and the duties are rather fungible, basically whatever the Administration feels the position needs to be. Advise, policy creation, enforcement, the powers vary from Czar to Czar, but in the end who says "no" when being called by an individual appointed by the President? And should not these positions be under one of the Cabinet positions, whose leaders are confirmed by the Senate?

Now the Obama Administration is proposing to Congress an Independent Medical Advisory Committee that would have very broad powers to set rates and reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid; basically by-passing the current Medicare Payment Advisory Commission who reports to Congress. The new IMAC would be appointed by the President and once it passes regulations and prices the Congress would have 30 days to pass a joint resolution, currently on the table is with a two-thirds majority according to the California Hospital Association, over turning any IMAC recommendations. If Congress is unable to provide a joint resolution in 30 days the decisions are binding.

One of the pillars of Obama's arguments for paying for the one trillion plus cost of the health care reform is "fixing" Medicare and Medicaid, goodness knows they need some fixing but so far from what I have read and heard his idea of fixing is to reduce reimbursements to providers. Recently doctors across the country received notices their Medicare reimbursements are dropping, over 12% across the board from what I have read and heard from doctors, and up to 40% for cardiologists. This is to "fix" the costs in Medicare. If the purpose of IMAC is to control expenses and there is a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with a divided Congress, the Executive Branch is now in the roll of fixing health care reimbursements for hospitals and doctors across the country.

A $787 billion stimulus package with 90% of the funds not spent and therefore not stimulating, take over of private corporations, cash for clunkers that has proven to bill ill conceived and ill managed, and over 30 top level administrators in office with no Congressional oversight. Now we are being shown a grab for even more power for the Executive Branch to control the payment of those who take care of our nation's health.

Checks and balances? Advise and Consent? Is anyone concerned about the disintegration of the enumeration of powers as defined in our Constitution?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just Some Questions

Below are questions I have asked myself throughout the past week. Instead of writing what my answers to them would be I am interested in any answers you may have, or additional questions you have asked yourself.

For the week starting Monday August 17, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Which Iron Chef would you pick to go against?

Y.E. Yang?

Did I miss elections that gave the Republicans the majority in both Houses of Congress in the past month?

What are you consciously ignoring right now?

Bagel: cream cheese or butter?

Kid #1 Question: Do you like dogs?

Is the California legislature really worth being the highest paid in the nation by almost 50%?

When profits for a company fall xyz% during a recession isn’t that still good news?

Are you early, on time or late?

Question of the week from a townhall from a very calm woman at an AARP meeting: “Why doesn’t the AARP insist that the government fix Medicare, fix Medicaid, fix social security before creating a whole new system based on processes that are proven failures?”

Martini: gin or vodka?

Do you consider yourself competitive?

How many of your neighbors do you know? Better yet, how many do you not know?

Lunch box or brown bag when you were a kid?

Does it matter if someone’s intentions were good if the result is a complete disaster?

At what stage of disrepair must our infrastructure, specifically roads, highways and bridges reach before spending on maintenance and replacement for infrastructure replaces spending on another new social program or expanding any existing programs?

Kid #2 Question: What was your favorite grade?

Who was the recipient of your first monetary contribution in politics? Did s/he win?

Who would you rather arrive late a firefighter, police officer or building inspector?

Stores have return policies and guaranteed satisfaction, what if our elected officials did and the return policy was as easy as Target’s?

Do you tithe to a religious institution or charity?

If blondes have more fun, do those who dye their hair blonde have more fun but most of it is not really fun?

Do you think any of our United States Senators have the “back-tat” if they are female or the wrap around the biceps tattoo for men? How long before someone which such “body art” is elected to the Senate?

For those reading in Southern California, have you enjoyed or not enjoyed our very cool August?

If crime levels are down to where they were during the Eisenhower Administration how come we don’t feel safe to let our kids just go play?

Did you parents go to and watch all your sports practices and games?

Cookies or Pie?

Please click the comments button below and share your answers to some questions!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(Anti-) Social Media And Your Kids

For those of us in the, let's call it the more mature generations, for those of us in the more mature generations the past couple of years has been one with a lot of learning about new technology. With the explosion of Facebook and Twitter almost every industry has had seminars and "experts" (how long does a new product or process need to be available before you can be an "expert?") coaching adults in their late thirties and older as to how to most effectively use the sites to improve their businesses.

Along with LinkedIn and My Space, Facebook and Twitter have been dubbed "Social Media" (while some use "social networking" I prefer media since to me social networking is a cocktail party). While Twitter has evolved to have mostly older users than Facebook or My Space, Linked In is almost strictly business networking and appears to be falling behind the more popular Facebook for the more mature generations. As for My Space, my understanding from browsing and inquiries is the site is not so popular with older folks like me and is more late teens and under 30s age brackets--I could be wrong but that is my impression.

While "friends" in the post college generations are welcomed when they come into the Facebook community with posts from friends "so great to see you on FB, you will love it!" the younger crowd assumes all their friends are already logged on and sharing their photos, music, videos and status. Like getting a cel phone and texting their BFF before they see if it can call home, teenagers assume anyone with a computer and Mom's permission will have a Facebook account. Key to that phrase is Mom's permission. There are no seminars at Obscure Former Educator Middle School teaching kids how to use Facebook to better their studies and become more productive and reach more prospects. Kids inantely know how the software works and quickly adapt to any changes. If you want proof, if you have any nieces, nephews, grandchildren, under 18 on Facebook take a look at their Wall and Profile compared to yours--they get it.

They get it because our children have grown up, or are growing up, with technology we had to learn how to use many years after college. I'm 47 and if you are my age or older you were over twenty when a company called Apple brought the Macintosh computer to market. Somewhere in your garage is a box with "Animal House" on Beta. You remeber when only doctors had car phones, hell you still call your mobile device a car phone half the time. Chances are the first portable cellular phone you saw was a "brick" with a battery that lasted two phone calls to the office or one call to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Many in our generation still do not know how to text on their mobile phone or burn a CD of their favorite music on their laptop.

Our kids, and I'm saying our kids are anyone in college or younger, intuitively know how to use all of this stuff. Have you seen a 14 year old girl working the buttons sending a text? First it is an entirely different language filled with abbreviations and acronyms, second the kids fingers remind one of a Western Union telegraph operator (for the younger readers call Grandpa to explain telegraph). They are constantly connected and communicating with their friends and social circle. While I do not have teenagers yet, my experience from those that do is it is normal for them to be working their Facebook pages, texting friends and taking calls all at the same time--multi-tasking social interaction. They never leave communication and if they do word spreads like wildfire, "OMG POS Out" because parent is over their shoulder and they have to sign off for a while.

Not only are they texting and posting on each others social media pages, but they are now using Skype or other software for live tele-conferencing with friends--they can never leave each others site. BFF, Best Friends Forever.

When I left high school for college I knew I would never see most of my classmates again. I was in a pretty unique situation since my high school was in Brussels, Belgium and almost all of my classmates who were returning to the States for college were going to be on the East Coast and I would be on the West Coast. But we also knew that our high school was not like most of our peers experience, going "home" meant something different for us than our new classmates at college. There was letter writing to stay in touch and eventually, at least for me, that fell by the wayside for most of my high school friends as our lives changed and we became more ingrained in life at our colleges, then new jobs and careers. While my high school experience was unique for my generation, my college experience was not that much different when it came to socializing and new relationships. Some of my classmates would frequently go home if they lived locally, or maintained the high school romance at first, a few lasted past Christmas break of freshman year, but those visits and relationships tended to diminish over time. They diminished because the communication and interaction was focussed within the college campus and the friends and relationships that created new and shared experiences that were not transported back to high school relationships.

It is harder to maintain a relationship with a monthly or quarterly letter, with a brief visit over busy holiday or summer schedules, when new relationships are developing with peers who are in the same position of being fairly shut off from communication with previous relationships and forced by proximity and length of time to forge new ones. Through the process we matured, mostly, wandered through the awkwardness of transition from teenager to adult, and prepared for careers and possibly families with support, encouragement and advice from others sharing our experience.

Many of those reading this will be remembering their college and young adult years and relate to what I am addressing, we cast off many of our old relationships and roles within our high school social groups and grew into our new selves and roles. We did this because it took effort to communicate with our prior social groups and friends, and at some point the cost-benefit analysis of the effort versus the reward caused the effort not to be worth it.

Today the entire social fabric of college life has changed due to the technology available to the students. A young woman of eighteen leaving home and travelling to college 1,000 miles away is in no less contact with her high school social circle than she is when sitting at home on Wednesday night. She can text. She can post on Facebook. She can email. She can take a picture or video with her phone and send it instantly sharing her experience. She can log onto Skype and see and hear her BFF. Or her boyfriend. She stays connected to her comfort zone and social circle where her role is defined and without missing a beat her relationships do not change.

Multiply this by one thousand and all the freshmen women on her campus are engaged in the same behavior. Any new experience is not unique but instantly shared with high school friends in Denver, Miami, Omaha or Los Angeles. If something is wrong or support is needed instead of crying on a roommates shoulder and open up to someone new, pick up your mobile phone and start texting those who know you best. Every student is already in several relationships that they carry with them in their pocket or on their waist--where do the new relationships fit in?

A few parents with kids going away for college are concerned about their kids shutting down their instant communication enough to live their own experience at college and forge their new relationships that will carry them through the rest of their lives. Concerned that the roles their kids have been assigned in high school will follow them to college, be the role positive or not, and hinder their ability to grow into their true selves and mature based on their own decisions and actions not filtered by a peer group created when they were thirteen or fourteen. Concerned that going away to college and the independence that teaches is diminished by dragging the social network to school with them.

How easy is it to blow off the guy from Sociology of Tazmanian Monkeys who wants to take you to pizza on Wednesday night if you are still spending a few hours each day/night on Skype with your high school boyfriend? How easy is it to ignore the proximity of the girls in your room cramming for a macroeconomic class when you have your cell phone and Lauren who is at BC is in a tizzy because James her high school beau has had the same girl in the last five pics he sent yesterday and today? How easy it is to go through four years of college 1,000 miles away and never leave home?

Social media is new to the adults. Many of us are using Facebook like an interactive high school year book, many of us have reconnected with old friends from high school--who was supposed to send the last letter and did not that stopped our relationship and communication? We are joining the social media sites and communication techniques late in life with strong and established relationships in our home, our neighborhood, our work, our church, our community, relationships formed and forged as adults.

Our younger generations are not using the social media as much to form new relationships but to stay connected to their "old" relationships--old being the four years of high school. Is this healthy for the social development of the generation? Will the current generations that grow up with the instant communication technology have gaps in socialization and communication that previous generations learned through the independence of maturing away from home and the comfort of high school? How will this affect their abilities to lead? Solve problems? Manage departments or companies?

UPDATE: I saw this cartoon from Mike Smith (no relation, though my brother's name is Mike Smith) in the Press-Telegram this morning after writing this post--very appropriate for the subject.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Reform Questions That Linger

Questions continue in the health care debate across the country. While every weekend I ask "Just Some Questions" for readers, here are some questions on unresolved issues that face Congress when it reconvenes in September.

The 111th Congress reconvenes in a few weeks, gathering its members from across the country as they return to Washington from visiting their Districts and their constituents. This summer has been different than any summer in recent memory as traditional summer townhall meetings and meet and greets staged by members of both the House and Senate have been the focal point of the health care reform debate. At the center is HR 3200, a proposed bill that runs 1,017 pages as currently offered by the government printing office. Typical summer vacation meet and greets and townhall meetings with members of Congress attract thirty or forty people at most, this summer's meetings have seen overflow crowds and Americans speaking directly to their elected representatives for the first time in generations. With almost 24/7 coverage of the health care reform debate, okay argument, in this country, there are many questions and issues that I feel Congress must address when its summer hiatus is over.

Former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin created a mini-storm within the storm when she wrote on her Facebook page about "death panels" staffed by government officials who would determine which citizens would be approved to receive which treatments. Mocked, scorned and scoffed at by many, Palin stood her ground and wrote a follow up post on her Facebook page that provided more details and connecting of the dots from HR 3200 that outlined coverage by government insurance of family doctors having end of life consultations with patients, and ability to introduce no extreme measures authorizations among other issues that could be discussed. President Obama reacted by saying, "we won't be pulling the plug on Grandma." Palin and others countered that the intent and attitude of HR 3200 is to use cost-benefit analysis in determining what care can be administered; between cost-benefit analysis of keeping Grandma alive and her consultation with her doctor whom she trusts she may pull the plug on herself. When looked at rationally the argument makes sense. So much sense that members of the Senate Finance Committee have already stated they are pulling any end-of-life consultations out of any bill before them, "it's too confusing" said one member.

Against this background with the House change, modify or delete the end-of-life language in its current version?

With its new name, or new to me, Pharma, Pharmaceutical companies have long been the bad guy in any health care discussion. The number one argument made about Pharma is the huge profits they make and the incredibly expensive costs of their products--particularly products that are mostly consumed by senior citizens on fixed retirement incomes. Not presented in any of those arguments are how Research and Development costs impact those profits. As outlined in a Congressional Budget Office report Pharma's R&D costs and the number of drugs approved for market have a big impact on their profit numbers. "Adjusted for the value of its R&D assets, the drug industry's actual profitability still appears to be somewhat higher than the average for all U.S. industries, but not two to three times higher, as standard measures of profitability indicate." Pharma pays taxes on its profits and then puts money into the approximately $800 million per drug in R&D for new products. Obviously drug companies make money, otherwise they would not be in business. As obviously the profits they make that allow them to stay in business is beneficial not only for the American public but is a global benefit as Pharma has developed drugs that cure cancer, prevent pregnancies, prevent major illnesses like polio, cure our hangovers and allow better performance in certain parts of our lives. With the long and protracted process of getting a drug from laboratory to pharmacy shelf the overall cost of drug development climbs every year. For many years Pharma has been one of the go to whipping dogs of the Democrats when they jumped on the health care soap box. A few weeks ago it was leaked that the White House made a deal with Pharma without bringing in any members of Congress--yes a secret, backroom deal from the Obama Administration with the Pharma lobbyists. In exchange for $150 million in support for advertising and public relations for the Democrats health care reform, the reform would include caps on drug costs that Pharma could accept to maintain their profitability.

How will the majority in Congress deal with the deal made between the President and Pharma? Will they compromise their desire to cap drug costs at a higher level and respect the President's deal and $150 million cost for the deal to Pharma?

Currently hospitals must treat all who enter their facilities for service. The financial problems often begin after treatment has started or ended. In California if a patient comes into a hospital that is not contracted with MediCal, once the patient is stable for transport the hospital must contact hospitals in the region to see if any have beds available to accept the patient. For both MediCal/Medicaid and Medicare, once a patient leaves a hospital a bill is presented to the appropriate government bureaucracy for payment. The bureaucracy then replies back, often at a much reduced payment and multiple denials of coverage for days in the hospital, treatment, etc. After the patient has been stabilized and sent home or to another hospital, in other words once the sick patient is cured, the government entity responsible for payment denies payment to the hospital for some of the treatment provided. This post-treatment denial of coverage, decisions made by government employees without medical degrees or training, costs hospitals, doctors, laboratories, technicians, billions of dollars every year.

In HR 3200 is a lot of language about cost-benefit decisions on care. Currently those decisions are being made by government health insurance programs after care has been provided and costing our health care system billions of dollars. Expanding this process to even more patients across the country will lead to even more treatment of patients with even less payment. How will you balance the cost-benefit treatment analysis with keeping hospitals open?

HR 3200 is over 1,000 pages in length. It is incredibly detailed and complicated. This has been one of the biggest arguments against HR 3200, because of its length and complexity almost no one who reads it can understand all of it. Of all I have read and seen, the public's questions of their Representatives, the one most often repeated is, "How can you vote for something you do not understand?"

Will members of the House and Senate work to simplify HR 3200 so that most Americans, let's even say most Americans with a college degree, can read and understand the bill? Will members of Congress read the final bill before voting to pass it?

One of the biggest arguments in favor of health care reform is health insurance companies denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. This pre-existing condition denial happens most often when an individual or family moves from one insurance company to another, which happens most often when the primary beneficiary changes employment. With the average American being much more mobile in employment between companies over his/her career than in the past, with the growing number of self-employed or independent contractors in American, more and more Americans every year are in a position where they do not qualify for a company based insurance program, or must go through the expensive COBRA option. Our health care system has evolved, through government encouragement and directive, so that employers have become responsible for the health insurance of their workers and their families. This costs employers, including public entities, billions of dollars every year in costs and at the same time limits the insurance choices now and in the future of its workers--many Americans stay in jobs they hate because of the insurance coverage for their family, especially if they have a child with a specific condition that would prevent them from getting insured from a new company should they change employers.

Will Congress create a plan that would make it more beneficial for Americans to purchase and maintain their health insurance coverage as individuals instead of their having to purchase their insurance through their employers--or the government? Will Congress changes the rules so that insurance companies can offer coverage across state lines without being subject to multiple state rules and allow a family to stay with the same carrier through many jobs, many moves and changes in their conditions?

Many have used the argument for the end of July push to get HR 3200 passed in a couple of weeks that, "we have had over 40 years to fix this, hasn't it been enough time." Or, "the Republicans had eight years to fix the health care system and didn't do it." Well yes, the Republicans had the White House for 8 years under George W. Bush and there was no health care reform, and before that the Democrats had the White House under Bill Clinton with no health care reform, and before that the Republicans had the White House for 12 years between George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and....during this time the Congress was at various times controlled by one party or the other. Just because several Administrations and Congresses have not addressed health care reform seems to be a reason for pushing through lengthy and complex legislation that has been read nor understood by almost no members of Congress, unless you just want reform of any kind without concern as to the consequences of the reform.

Will Congress take a measured approach to health care reform and divide the reform into manageable segments with the agreement of both parties? Will Congress enable thoughtful discussion and debate on a piece by piece basis addressing the current private and public insurance options, reimbursement of health care providers giving care to uninsured, ability to continue insurance with the same carrier and doctors throughout ones career/life, simplifying billing an reimbursement processes, government involvement in health care delivery and approvals?

Finally, can members of Congress, particularly those in leadership positions, quit with the divisive politics and name calling? Can members of Congress accept that most Americans consider government involvement in their health care to be somewhat scary, very unknown as to what it will mean to their future and the future of their families and very personal and as such they do not want political rhetoric, name calling and dismissive remarks and behavior? Can members of Congress do what they have been selected by the American people to do, which is to lead with the consent of their constituents?

Most Americans want our current health care system to undergo some changes and reform, our disagreements are over how those come about and what the total reform needs to be. Can members of Congress understand they can achieve national unity with a clear stated final objectives and then work together for common ground on how to achieve those objectives?

In about fifteen months every member of the House of Representatives and about one-third of the members of the Senate are facing re-election. How these members of Congress perform in the coming months on the health care reform issue will matter greatly in November 2010, for there has not been an issue in the past few decades that has gained the attention of so many Americans with disparate views. Not wars, not economies, not political scandal. Not since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s have so many Americans who are usually silent raised their voices on an issue. Do members of Congress hear those voices? Are they all listening?


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Just Some Questions

Below are questions I have asked myself throughout the past week. Instead of writing what my answers to them would be I am interested in any answers you may have, or additional questions you have asked yourself.

For the week starting Monday August 10, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

What is the difference between salsa and relish?

Can you brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand?

If the push to have everyone ride their bike to work in Long Beach proves real successful, how much money will the city lose in parking revenue?

Why do people drive down alleys at any speed over 5 mph?

Mac or PC?

Stimulus bill, Cash For Clunkers, North Korea, Government ownership of automakers, HR3200 (Health Care Reform), would you still vote the way you did in November for the top of the ticket? What about votes further down the ticket for Congress and state offices?

Banana bread or zucchini bread?

I will not ask any questions about Bill Clinton, I don’t need that kind of a shout down.

Anyone offering apologies for lambasting the National Inquirer “a supermarket tabloid” for the John Edwards reporting it did?

Kid #1 Question: Where did you go to elementary school?

With the uproar over White House spying on legal wiretaps, why the silence of White House using cookies to track internet use and collecting emails of opponents of ObamaCare?

Would you hire someone to cold call for your company or product who cannot be understood on the phone?

Was Michael Vick a victim of racism?

What is printed on your favorite t-shirt?

Does anyone in sports, not an athlete, have a better job than Steve Williams?

Did you pick up some trash in a public place that was not yours this week?
Kid #2 Question: Do you like to chew ice?

When all is said and done will Eunice Shriver have left a bigger legacy and longer lasting impact on America and the world than any of her brothers?

What is your favorite sport to participate in? To view in person? To view on television?

If you could win election to any political office which would it be?

One dish, who cooks it and what is it?

Cookies or Pie?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I have never written a President before; I might have written President Nixon in Mrs. Tacker’s First Grade class at Paul Revere Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1968 but if so I do not remember. I have chosen this time of my life as a 47 year old man to write you due to a request on the White House website,“If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to” Rather than have someone else go through the hassle of forwarding my opinions and postings to you, I thought I would do the stand up thing and send it myself. In the interest of full disclosure this letter is also posted on my blog at and will also be linked to my Facebook page and emailed to others including some members of the media. Since one of your campaign positions was transparency I thought you would be okay with my making this communication public and transparent.

As I stated, I am 47, married and have two children in elementary school, for more than twenty years I have been a mortgage broker, for the past ten have been partners in a successful brokerage that has helped thousands of Americans purchase homes—very few of whom have faced foreclosures due to our diligence in matching finances to prices. I am a college graduate from a small liberal arts college with a degree in Economics and Political Studies. Very active in my community, I have served on the boards and in leadership positions for several non-profit organizations; most recently serving the past two years as Chair of the Board of Community Hospital of Long Beach. There are a million or more Americans like me across this great land, parents, small business owners, active in their communities, while this communication is from me perhaps it speaks for many of them as well.

Now to the heart of the matter: Health Care Reform (HR3200). In my role as parent, business owner, patient and board member of a non-profit community hospital I have seen our health care industry from practically every angle except that of practitioner—unless removing a splinter from the tiny finger of a crying daughter qualifies. I have paid the co-pays, have settled the disputes between doctor’s office billing and insurance coverage, I have negotiated payment of health benefits for employees, I have waited anxiously for test results and I have poured over financials of a hospital where many months up to half the visitors to its Emergency Room are classified as “self-pay” which in the hospital business usually means “no-pay.”

From these experiences I am very aware that some reform is necessary as there are billions of dollars wasted in our current health care system and the waste impacts the two most important parties in the transaction: the patient and the provider. Between my insurance premiums, co-pays, taxes for MediCal and Medicare for my self, plus premiums and taxes paid by our company, I am paying thousands and thousands of dollars every year into health care, and most of what I am paying goes to administrators, bureaucrats and other premiums to cover the malpractice insurance the providers must carry.

I know from the provider side billions are spent on bureaucratic minefields whenever they wish to add a washroom, create a new program, or remodel a hospital room. In California state law will force the closure of many hospitals who do not have the hundreds of millions of dollars, each, to retrofit their buildings to the codes set by politicians. In California state law creates millions of dollars per year for every hospital to constantly maintain minimum nurse staffing levels set by politicians with heavy influence from groups like your friends at Service Employees International. I know that payments from MediCal are uneven throughout the state and that Medicare is cutting payments for services provided. And I know that hospitals must treat every person who walks through the door, whether insured or not, whether a citizen or not, if they need medical assistance from removing lice to cardiac arrest they are treated, by moral law and government statute, and often receive no reimbursement for the care.

Central to HR3200 is the “public option” insurance that will be the blanket coverage for all Americans without insurance. The number that is used appears to be 48 million uninsured Americans who will be covered by this private option. Currently over 45 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare, it costs us $425 billion per year and accounts for sixteen cents of every dollar spent by our Federal government. As you have stated, it is inefficient. It is estimated that 10% of the program is lost to fraud and theft. Under HR3200 the number of Medicare patients, would essentially double, and the cost of HR3200 is $1.6 trillion. If the current system of federal insurance does not work well why are people so eager to add more individuals to the system? Medicare is paid for by working Americans and mostly covers Americans who are not working. Under HR3200 the uninsured, whether working or not, will be covered and the cost will be paid for once again by working Americans. How will my taxes not go up if I am already paying a Medicare tax that is still not enough to cover 45 million Americans health care needs and the intention is to add another 45 million to be covered?

In your press conference last month you said that a doctor treating a child for a sore throat would prescribe that the child’s tonsils be taken out just to make more money. Despite the fact that the child’s pediatrician would not make more money since another doctor would perform the tonsillectomy, have you considered that the doctor may be prescribing the treatment to avoid a lawsuit later on? What if the doctor did not prescribe the tonsillectomy and the tonsillitis worsened and became a worse condition? Almost 30% of babies delivered in the United States are done so by caesarian section, the main reason the percentage is so high is to avoid possible lawsuits for malpractice; former Presidential candidate John Edwards made his fortune on C-Section lawsuits and settlements—an indication of not only a major problem in our current healthcare system but also the incestuous relationship between trial lawyers and members of the Democratic Party.

Our health care system needs to be reformed. HR3200 does not reform our health care system it creates a new health care system. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have attacked and slandered Americans who are questioning and opposing HR3200, but have admittedly not read the legislation. Mr. President you are on the campaign trail urging Americans to support HR3200 but I, and many others, are skeptical that you have read the entire bill. How can our elected leaders ask us to support something they have not read?

Rather than asking us to support a brand new health care system that costs trillions and trillions of dollars, rather than asking us to support a new health care system that will change how our children and grandchildren, how our parents and grandparents, will be treated, rather than asking us to support a new health care system that will create enormous debt for our children and grandchildren, why not work within the existing framework of our health care system to preserve what works and fix was does not?

My health care insurance works great. It is costly, but that is mainly due to the costs created throughout the entire system. Work on those costs and create more competition, not from the government, and my premiums will come down.

Any health care reform that does not include tort reform is useless in lowering costs for the medical community and therefore for patients and insurance companies. Instead of creating a new health care system, create tort reform that protects patients but as importantly is not punitive to good doctors who treat us with care and concern.

Any health care reform that does not create an environment that allows insurance companies to compete for my premiums is useless in lowering costs for health insurance. Currently my most competitive option for insuring my family is through my company. My company selects, once a year, from a few options for a company to cover everyone in the company. Our premiums are set by the condition of the least healthy amongst us. As well we are only able to obtain quotes from companies in California. Remove the borders for insurance companies and let them compete for business in Long Beach, California, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Albany, New York. Competition creates lower prices and more efficient delivery of services—consumers can choose between cost and service and often end up with both.

Create an environment where employers are not responsible for insuring workers and their families. It limits the options for families and ties them to their employers for benefits not for the quality of their job or work environment. It would eliminate COBRA costs which drive up health care costs. With more individuals seeking insurance, companies can reward healthy families and drive costs down.

Yes I am against HR3200. I have not read all 1000 pages which may make me a hypocrite for deriding those in Washington who have not read it, but I am not obligated to since I am not voting on it. What I have read however does not make sense. It does not seem to solve our heath care system’s problems but rather seems to add more problems in the future. As can been seen by the reaction of Americans across the country, most of us like our doctors, like our insurance companies and like our health care system. We know we have the best health care in the world, with the best doctors, the best hospitals and the best nurses. However since approximately 10% of Americans are not covered by insurance, not by choice, your Administration and some Democrats in Washington want to tear down our current system and create a new health care system.

Yes, this worries some of us. Yes, this scares some of us. Yes, we are concerned for the type of care we will receive, our children will receive and our grandchildren will receive. These are legitimate concerns and the reaction from you and others only increases our concerns. It is difficult to trust leaders who tell us to “get out of the way” say we are “carrying swastikas to meetings” and tell us to “stop talking.” It makes us wonder what are they trying to hide, what do they not want us to know?

Your employee asked for any letters or emails that seem “fishy.” I do not know if this qualifies, but I am sending it anyway because I think HR3200 is fishy. I think there is so much hidden in 1000 pages of legislation that no one has read but are pushing onto us that there is reason for concern and opposition. I think the trust you gained from the majority of Americans in November 2008 is evaporating the more you insist we stop talking and support radical changes that will affect how we will live our lives in good health or bad.

Please stop trying to create a new health care system and instead look at what simple but minor changes can be made to our existing system to enable continued quality care to be provided to over 300 million Americans every year.

Dennis C Smith
Long Beach, CA

Monday, August 10, 2009

LBUSD Special Elections

If you live within the boundaries of the Long Beach Unified School District, particularly District 3, you will see more activity than you are used to on your local ballot in 2010. In April incumbents Mary Stanton and David Barton are up for re-election and there will be an open election, or an election with an incumbent, in the 3rd District--more later. Then in November 2010 voters are being asked to pass a parcel tax of $92 per year for the next five years--yes a tax with an automatic expiration date, unique in California.

There is some tie in between the LBUSD 3rd District elections that may occur and the parcel tax, both are the result of political power wielded by teachers' unions in California. To recap for those not following their local Press-Telegram or the local websites, earlier this month Michael Ellis submitted his resignation effective September 1, 2009, thereby creating a vacant seat on the school board. Ellis has had quite a history in Long Beach. He is the poster boy for the local teachers' union, the Teachers' Association of Long Beach, attempt to take control of the school board and then hire TALB friendly administrators to run the district in a TALB friendly way--forget the children it was about the union controlling the district. As I wrote extensively on the Long Beach Post website, then TALB director Scott McVarish and some members of the TALB board of directors racked up huge debts to fund three candidates in the 2006 elections for the five member LBUSD school board. Ellis, who had a history with McVarish, was moved into Long Beach to run for his seat, it was discovered he moved to an address that was not in a district up for election so he moved again. The residence he established was after the filing deadline for the 3rd District seat, but City Attorney Robert Shannon allowed him to be on the ballot. He was challenging incumbent Suja Lowenthal, who dropped out of the race when the 2nd District City Council seat became open due to the resignation of Dan Baker. Confused?

Ellis won the election with tens of thousands of dollars of money from TALB and its PAC--funds collected by paycheck deductions from teachers. Subsequently Ellis toed the union line as dictated by McVarish and was on the small side of many 4-1 votes. Meanwhile back at TALB headquarters on the corner of Atlantic and Claiborne there was quite a battle going on. The board was fractionalized with President Michael Day leading the pro-McVarish camp and board member Marc Hyatt taking on a leadership role of the anti-McVarish camp. At one point a majority of the board fired McVarish, but TALB is set up in a weird way and a subset of the organization, the site representatives, overturned the firing and McVarish showed back up to work. Aiding in the internal battles and guiding McVarish and Day through the minefields was Long Beach 5th City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske who was the on staff legal counsel.

It turns out the anti-McVarish camps did the right thing by firing McVarish for financial impropriety. The local was taken into trusteeship by the California Teachers' Association and an audit was performed. Having read the several hundred page document, if anyone wants a gander let me know, it was evident that financial controls were either not in place or ignored during McVarish's tenure as Executive Director. The CTA trustee dismissed McVarish and many of us in Long Beach thought, hoped, that it would also mean the end of Ellis on the school board. Without his puppet master and mentor around, not being a resident, having what appear to be extensive personal issues and battles to focus on, the assumption was he would resign. Instead he just stopped showing up to meetings. So for more than a year the families and residents of the LBUSD 3rd District have been unrepresented on the school board due to the failure of their elected representive not attending meetings.

Now LBUSD has some legal work to do. With the seat vacant they must call an election date within 30 days of the election, which gives them until the end of September to annouce the election for the seat. The election must then be held within 120 days of the announcement, which if made on September 30, 2009 means the election must be held before January 28, 2010. However if the election is within 120 of a scheduled election, which is April 13, 2010, they can forego the election; 120 days before April 13th is December 14, 2009. Doing all the calendar math it appears that the District can save about $200,000 for a special election for a seat that will be held for a few months--but I am not an attorney and it could be that a special election will have to be held.

An issue with a much larger fiscal impact than a special election to fill the 3rd District seat is also on the election calendar. In July the school board passed by a vote of 4-0 (guess who was absent...right! Ellis) to put on the November 2010 ballot a parcel tax that would add $92 per year to the annual tax bills of the residential property owners within the district's boundaries. It is expected the parcel tax if passed by two-thirds of the votes will generate approximately $11 million during the five year period. The funds will be used to fill the huge holes in the LBUSD budget because of the inability of Sacramento Legislators to properly control the education funds paid to them by the tax payers. While some in the community are complaining that the LBUSD must "live within its budget" the problem is LBUSD has lived within its budget, has cuts tens of millions of dollars out of its budget since 2003, and its budget is pretty much set by Sacramento, not just in revenue but also its expenses by dictating programs to which LBUSD must dedicate funds.

LBUSD, like many districts across the state, are in financial straits because of dedicated funding of programs by state mandate. Sacramento controls how much of our property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes are sent back to our school district, then tells our school district what that money must be spent on--with little to no knowledge of our district and its needs. So in reality our school board and Superintendent become handcuffed when it comes to budgeting for our district and often their job is what needs to get cut because of the mandated program funding, much of it not needed in our district.

Where do these mandates come from? Legislators and policy wonks within the Department of Education. When it comes to the members of the Assembly and State Senate with our gerrymandered districts all a candidate needs to do to gain office is to win the primary in his or her district. If you are a Democrat in Long Beach, or most of Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or most of the districts in the state, and want to be a member of the Assembly just win the primary against other Democrats on the ballot and you are virtually guaranteed election to Sacramento. To win your primary you need money, to get the money you need to make sure you agree to follow the needs of your donors if (when) you get elected.

Guess who spends millions of dollars up and down the state on primaries and elections for members of the Assembly and State Senate, virtually every campaign dollar being spent on Democrats? Guess who as part of the quid pro quo knows they will have friendly meetings and access to politicians shaping education policies and programs in the State. Guess who probably has more control of the education budget in Long Beach than local officials? If your guess was either the California Teachers Association or the California Federation of Teachers you get a point, if you guessed both you get a bonus.

TALB's attempted takeover of the Long Beach Unified School District in 2006 was a local union with aggressive, and somewhat out of control, leadership following the game plan enacted by its parent union, a game plan that has been active and working in California for many years. By finding and financing local candidates friendly to the unions' wants and needs and guarantees of funding for future campaigns, our teachers up and down the state are giving a few dollars out of every paycheck, every pay period to build a huge political warchest for CTA and CFT. Those funds are then used to influence, perhaps actually write, education policies that are then mandated back to the districts. The school districts then have little to no operating room in their budgets.

And when Sacramento cuts funds for school districts because of its complete failure to honestly budget for education, health care, infrastructure, and public safety, our kids suffer and our future suffer. And when teachers hold huge protests against the cuts I just shake my head, knowing those same teachers holding the signs deriding politicians in Los Angeles or Sacramento, bought and paid for the elections of those in the majority in the Assembly and the Senate--they got what they paid for: short-sighted policies that create imbalance in the budgets and programs that have finally broken.

There is a connection between our vacant 3rd District seat in Long Beach and the lack of funds for schools in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Inyo County and Riverside. The connection is the power wielded by the teachers' unions in controlling our budgets and education policies. It is my hope that Long Beach and other districts throughout the state are able to regain control of their budgets, of their programs and allow the local voters and local leadership determine the course of their schools for their children.

Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser writes here of the need for local control. If you support his position please let him know and vote "Yes" on November 3rd on the parcel tax for local schools.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Just Some Questions

Below are questions I have asked myself throughout the past week. Instead of writing what my answers to them would be I am interested in any answers you may have, or additional questions you have asked yourself.

For the week starting Monday August 3, 2009 here are some things I asked myself:

Do astronauts still drink Tang?

Should healthier employees pay lower premiums than unhealthy employees in the same company health plan?

Have you ever been actively involved in a protest?

Have you ever worn shorts to work?

This question from crowd at Majority Leader Hoyer’s Town Hall, “I’m a registered Democrat, why are you trying to rush health care reform through in two to three weeks when it took President Obama six months to pick a dog for his kids?”

Do you give someone “props” or “kudos”?

Do you think Cash For Clunkers is a good use of tax revenue?

Given that the Democrats have significant enough majorities in both houses of Congress to pass whatever they want, is it disingenuous or ludicrous to blame Republicans for the health care legislation being in trouble?

You favorite weekend footwear, laces, Velcro or slip-on?

Did the person third in line to the Presidency really equate Americans exercising First Amendment rights Nazis?

Has any couple become members of the 186 mile high club?

How come the talking heads on CNN and editorialists for the New York Times did not call those who filled the streets of San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, “crack pots” and “operatives” but feel it is okay to give those labels to people attending small meetings throughout the country asking questions of their Representatives?

Cremation or burial?

Is respect for the exercise of First Amendment rights applied equally?

Best summer movie this year is? Best summer movie ever?

What is your measure of “success?”

If the health care legislation currently in Congress is so great why aren’t its proponents spending time, energy and media time focusing on whatever may be positive in it instead of denigrating those of us opposed?

What is the last concert you went to?

Whenever someone says ‘It’s not that cold, you’ll get used to it, do you?

Do you remember your first roller coaster ride?

Cookies or Pie?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Building On A Broken Foundation

Leslie and I have had plans to remodel our kitchen since we moved into our home in 1998. Our home in the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach dates to the late 1920s and sits on expansive clay soil, when the dirt gets wet it expands significantly, when it gets dry it contracts. This expansion and contraction over 80 years is not very good for the foundation, as a result we have some plates and braces around various parts of the foundation. Last year our front lawn was taken out and replaced with drought tolerant landscaping; drought tolerant but still in need of some water, especially the first year. Unfortunately one of the drip hoses was installed too close to our home and the result of a year of thrice weekly dripping has resulted in what we think is more damage to our foundation.

If our home was under the control of the Nancy Pelosi/Barack Obama group of Democrats, who I now label the "New Democrats" for their combination of power in Washington and station on the far left of the Democratic Party, if our home was under the control of the New Democrats then we would go right ahead with our kitchen remodel plans. Leslie and I would borrow several hundred thousand dollars, not read the architect's designs, over pay our contractors, and build our new kitchen on top of our foundation without fixing the cracks and soil issues that will lead to future damage and possible collapse of that section of the home. No regard for budget, no care about the details of the plan, no time taken to fix what is already wrong and without attention will get worse in the future, just build a new kitchen.

This is the approach the New Democrats are taking on their health care overhaul. Operating on the premise that most Americans agree with, that our current health care system is in need of repair, the New Democrats have crafted proposals that are in Congress that seemingly ignores any budget, is being pushed without reading the details and most importantly without fixing what is already in place and needs attention: Medicare.

There are many issues I have with many of the proposals I have read and read about in the thousand plus health care proposal being pushed around committees by New Democrats in Washington. Those issues are secondary however to the complete lack of focus on fixing what is already in place, a government controlled health insurance program, before expanding it from a $425+ billion program to a $1.6 trillion program. The ultimate goal of the New Democrats is a single payer, government run health care system--while some deny it they cannot hide from YouTube and the internet with videos of speeches and interviews in which many have been seen stating the path they are on will lead to one insurance program in America that is run by Washington.

Medicare covers approximately 45.5 million Americans and costs over $425 billion in fiscal year 2009. It accounts for sixteen cents of every Federal dollar spent, third in spending behind social security (which is also broken) and defense spending. In 1983 Medicare cost almost $53 billion, so it has grown over eight times in just over twenty-five years. Despite a $200 million budget within the Health and Human Services budget for fraud and abuse control within the Medicare programs, it is conservatively estimated that 10% of the Medicare budget goes to fraud and abuse--that is over $42 billion each year. These costs are despite the contributions every paycheck by working Americans who have Medicare insurance payments automatically deducted from their paychecks along with their taxes, 401(k) and private health insurance premiums.

Medicare, and its little brother Medicaid (Medical in California) provide models for a government run health care system. It dictates payments to doctors and hospitals, has prescription drug programs, collects additional premiums and deductibles from those covered or partially covered. It operates at a loss despite collecting what amounts to premiums from every working American. To cover the losses funds are taken from the general budget of the United States, which has as its largest contributors the wealthiest Americans who earn the most income and pay into the highest tax rate.

To recap, the Federal run health insurance program that covers only about 15% of the American population is paid for by every working American in their paychecks and since it operates at a loss is supplemented by the tax dollars of every working American with the majority of the supplemental support coming from those making the most money and in the highest tax brackets.

If passed, how will the health care proposal being pushed by the New Democrats differ significantly from the current Medicare system? Will it be run by the same bureaucrats who are currently unable to make Medicare work? Will it reduce the amount of fraud and abuse that bleeds over 10% of the existing budget? Will it be able to control the amount of "premiums" collected from working Americans?

The ultimate goal of the New Democrats is single payer insurance, a system that pretty much already is in place in the United States due to the Medicare deductions and use of tax revenue to pay for the program. Before trying to force onto Americans a hodge-podge of proposals and policies as detailed in the thousand page bill they have written, should they not show us they can run an effective and efficient health care insurance program? Before committing to several trillion dollars of costs paid for by you and me should they not show they can offer quality health care for Americans being covered in a system that "only" costs $425 billion this year? Before committing to every doctor, hospital and health care provider in America to becoming a government employee should they not work with the doctors, hospitals and health care providers currently receiving Medicare patients to strike that fine balance between proper compensation and quality care?

The debates and arguments and focus the past several weeks have been on the health care proposal that has been written by the New Democrats. Most of the coverage has been on specific proposals within the proposed legislation. What I would like to see is the call for reform of Medicare before any new health care overhaul is passed. Given the way $1 billion has become small change in Washington, use Medicare as an experiment if you will for how a bigger health care system may work. It has most of the elements being proposed and it has many flaws and inefficiencies that have been acknowledged vociferously by New Democrats as a reason the system needs to be overhauled. But instead of fixing what they acknowledge to be wrong they are looking to commit trillions of dollars to what appears to be essentially the same broken system.

Leslie and I know we need to move our drip hose and some plants away from our home and fill the area with a drainage system, rocks, and concrete to keep water away from the dirt around our foundation. We then need to repair the foundation in that section of our home with braces and plates. Only when the existing foundation is secure can we think about rebuilding what sits on top of that foundation, to do otherwise would be foolish. What is the difference between our remodeling our kitchen and the New Democrats' plans to remodel our health care system? The biggest difference is we know where we need to start.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Villains And Victims

It seems the blame, the victimization, the broad personal attacks, the characterizations, and negative attacks that so fully consumed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and many of her Democratic allies in Congress and across the country during the Bush Administration are fully ingrained in their character and basic political philosophy. Now that they have full control of Congress and the White House they cannot stop with the finger pointing and name calling. Only instead of their vitriol being directed at a President they hated and spent eight years trying to undermine it is now being directed at the American people. Every issue that arises in our country has someone to blame, someone they can castigate and someone they can attack with character assassinations. In the process the culture of our country takes another step from personal responsibility and accountability. While many Republicans are certainly guilty of the blame game and character attacks, typically they are directed at political rivals and opponents rather than huge swaths of the American public.

When the credit crisis started, Washington immediately put anyone working on Wall Street or in the financial industries in the category of selfish and greedy people looking to make money any way possible. If you listen to commercial radio you have heard the ad from the law firm looking for clients for their loan modification services in which President Obama is blaming "unscrupulous mortgage lenders" who caused all the problems in the housing industry. During a press conference on the Democrats health care proposals Obama accused doctors of taking tonsils out of little children and performing other procedures just so they can make more money. Last week Pelosi told reporters that independent insurance agents "are the villains in this," "this" of course being the problems with our health care system.

From obesity, to gang violence, to the environment, to household economics, to illiteracy, to health, every problem has a victim and every victim is given someone to blame--usually someone faceless. The problem is that no one in America is faceless. Every industry or segment of the country that is the target of some politician or political party's blame consist of good, hard working Americans. But this is lost on those who feel it is easier to promote their political agendas by characterizing some of their constituents as helpless victims who have no choice or ability to make decisions and providing a big, bad target to blame.

Mortgage brokers and independent insurance agents operate in very similar ways, they just offer different products. By having a variety of larger companies that actually fund mortgages or write the insurance policies with whom they have business arrangements, they find the product that matches the abilities, personal histories and needs of their clients. Because they have a variety of competing wholesale lenders or insurers vying for their clients, they also have the ability to shop the rates for the clients to find the best combination of price, service, and product. Our company uses insurance agents to help keep the health insurance costs down for all our employees while still being able to offer a variety of plans from which to choose. Another agent shops our Errors and Omissions insurance annually to make sure we have a product that covers our company at an affordable premium. Life, health, business, auto, home, we have many different insurance products we all use in our daily lives. Local insurance agents sponsor our Little League teams, take out ads in the high school basketball programs, donate to local charities and are at the PTA meetings. Hardly the villains Pelosi wants you to think they are.

The same can be said for mortgage brokers. Or real estate agents. Or local restaurants. Pick a small business in your community and you can find members of that industry or company throughout your community. Are their bad mortgage brokers that screw(ed) people? Yes. Are there bad real estate agents that push(ed) homes on people? Yes. Are there bad insurance agents that over-insure clients? Yes. Are there financial advisers that steer clients to higher commission products? Yes. Every industry, every sector of the economy, every community has those who see as their primary purpose to squeeze as much money out of the market place and their clients as possible. And in every industry these people constitute a very, very small minority of those who work in the industry.

Think of the many different people and companies that provide services for you and your family. Your family doctor, your insurance agent, your financial advisor, your attorney, do you think there primary concern is to help you with your decisions and problems or to take as much of your money as they can? Obama, Pelosi and many of their fellow Democrats think it is the latter. They do not realize that every industry they characterize as "unscrupulous," every nameless person they call "villain," every group they accuse of operating from "greed" consists of Americans that are working hard to provide for their families and improve their communities.

With the health care legislation that was rushing through Congress now stalled until September at the earliest we can expect an August filled with commercials, speeches and appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows vilifying health care providers as charging too much, insurance companies as making too much and employers as providing too little. Your doctor, your neighbor and your boss are all to blame for your health care difficulties. By victimizing you and other Americans and blaming big groups they are setting up an argument based on class warfare, "Us" versus "Them" and everyone is "Us."

At no point in any of these arguments or commercials will any of "Us" be shown taking responsibility for ourselves. My health issues are not because I eat too much, drink too much, smoke too much, exercise too little, have genetic defects, engage in risky behavior, or do not bother with routine check ups. My financial issues are not because I wanted too much, did not stay in school and get a degree, spend and consume too much, borrow too much, save too little, or cannot keep a job because I'm always right and the boss is always stupid. None of my problems are of my own causing because I did not read papers I signed, did not get references, found a "great deal" or did not do any research at all on the individual or company I was going to work for or with. None of the problems I am having are my own causing. I know this because that is what our national leadership is telling me. I am pissed because some unscrupulous, greedy, villainous, professional or company has purposefully screwed me over. If it were my fault I would take some accountability, but since it is not I will blame them.

Abetted by a media that loves to trot out the sob stories and victims, the political philosophy of the new Democrats is working. In California the government has become the Nanny State trying to abdicate every citizen from any responsibility or accountability providing someone to blame and enabling them to create more laws that restrict more freedoms and liberties. Washington under full Democratic control is working towards this direction as well with an objective of total government control over industry, financial services and health care. The more blame that can be placed on an industry the more right the government has to regulate the industry, the more the industry is regulated the less choice we have, the fewer freedoms we enjoy and the less personal responsibility and accountability we must have.

Freedom to succeed also means the freedom to fail. Success is not a right but must be attained through hard work and good decisions. Unfortunately the philosophy of the political majority in our Congress and White House is that the successful need to compensate the unsuccessful, that good decisions can only be made by government and that if you do not work hard and/or make good decisions you need not worry because you will be taken care of, courtesy of the government.

I am proud to be a mortgage broker and the hundreds and hundreds of families I have helped become homeowners in the past few decades. I am proud to know many insurance agents who do great work helping families and small businesses with their insurance needs and being their in those unfortunate times they need those policies. I am proud to know many doctors throughout our community who care about their patients and their health, working to help them create good habits and lifestyles for a healthier future. I am proud to know many real estate professionals who care more about families purchasing the home that fits their personal needs and financial abilities rather than how much commission they can make. I am proud to know many financial advisers who look at the long term goals and current financial abilities of their clients instead of how they can make more money.

Too bad Pelosi and Obama are not as proud of these Americans as I am.