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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Running To Empty?

If I am a loyal Congressional Democrat I am very ticked off at the White House, and especially President Obama right now. Elected with a 7 point majority but behaving as if handed a mandate, the President has left me holding the bucket on health care. Traipsing around the country raising money for other Democrats he has left me holding the credit card on an exploding federal deficit and federal debt approaching $33 trillion. Waffling on any decision concerning Afghanistan he has left me holding the phone, calling constituents whose son has just been killed in the war. Attacking the most watched cable news station he has left me holding the remote control.

On health care Obama has been quick to give speeches about a broken system. Quick to blame insurance companies. Quick to blame Medicare rife with inefficiencies and fraud. Quick to blame Republicans for any opposition to any of the bills in the Senate and House. Missing from the health care reform process has been any formal input or proposals from the White House. Obama's position on health care reform has been "not my job, it is for Congress to present me with a bill." Technically he is correct, it is the job of the Legislative Branch to present to the Executive Branch legislation to be signed into law. Technically this formal process broke down decades ago with President Franklin Roosevelt who pushed his legislative agenda through a willing Congress. Vacant from the health care reform process has been the President stating clearly and succinctly, "This is my proposal."

Through the tumultuous summer of discontent, with the Town Hall meetings, the Tea Parties and the debates in diners and at neighborhood block parties Congressional Democrats were the targets of angry constituents confused over thousands of pages of proposed legislation, upset over trillions of dollars of federal spending, concerned over future deficits and how they would be paid for. Back in Washington, or in Chicago, or in Martha's Vineyard, or in Copenhagen, President Obama was one day saying the "public option" was an option and the next day saying any legislation to be effective must have some form of public option. Depending on who was in the live audience a different version of the health care reform speech was delivered. As long as the speech was delivered well everyone clapped. "We must not wait. We must reform our broken health care system. Those profiting from the ills of others are conspiring to deprive others. Republicans are to blame." Fill in the rest.

The White House has presented no leadership on this issue. As the leader of the Democratic Party, Obama has left Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in charge of health care reform, in charge of legislation to be voted up or down in Congress, in charge of whipping Democrats into supporting legislation. Democrats who have gotten their hats handed to them over the summer and since are shying away from public option votes and the huge deficits currently proposed legislation will incur. Without a legislative proposal from Obama the Democratic leadership has lost the political card of, "you need to support the President on this." Instead it is "you need to support Speaker Pelosi who has an approval rating of 19 on this." With no leadership there is no cohesion. With no cohesion health care reform legislation is not going to pass in this term of Congress.

Right after taking office Obama declared that the federal government needed to spend almost $1 trillion dollars in stimulus funds to prevent unemployment from rising and restart the economy. Despite a majority of economists saying the economic cycle would run its course and correct by the end of 2009, despite over three-quarters of the stimulus funds in the legislation not being spent until well into 2010, the White House and Obama created a do-or-die urgency and pushed legislation through. As a result Obama's most significant legislative success, that he initiated and pushed, is a huge pile of spending and debt that has had an almost insignificant impact on the national economy and provided members of Congress with pork projects they can use as political capital heading into the November 2010 elections. With no evidence of the spending, but daily evidence of a growing deficit and government debt, members of Congress are being pressed more than ever on the spending of the Federal government and how our children and grandchildren will pay for it. Most of them ran for election or re-election in 2008, as did the President, on the massive spending of President Bush. In 280 days of the Obama Administration they have outspent by vast margins any spending in the eight years of the Bush Administration and the debt being charged up is approaching a greater amount than all the debt of the Bush years combined. Coming home to cities on the verge of bankruptcy, states on the verge of bankruptcy and constituents out of work, members of Congress are being asked to explain how they can be spending more and more and endebting future tax revenues to pay back Chinese investment in Treasury bonds.

In March President Obama was on television with a very patriotic setting, standing on a flag filled stage with his Secretary of State and several senior officers in the military and declared he has a policy for Afghanistan. He stated winning the war in Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban was a top priority. This summer the Taliban gained a few toeholds and key routes from bases in Pakistan into Afghanistan and began an offensive against NATO and American troops. Slowly they regained control over parts of the country and its people. Certain factions of the Democratic Party were upset that Obama was keeping troops in Afghanistan instead of pulling them out. As the general leading the fight in Afghanistan called for more troops to achieve the objective of winning the war and destroying the Taliban, Obama went into decision mode. This has entailed several weeks, months, of consideration. During this period of consideration and no decision Obama has taken the time, several times, to blame his predecessor for Afghanistan and he is trying to find the best way to deal with it. Seemingly forgetting his own pronouncement in March that he has enacted his policy and his objective to win the war, with this policy not working it is convenient to skip over March and instead flip back to his go to target: Bush and Republicans.

No leadership on health care reform that is leaving his party fractionalized, a Treasury that is selling hundreds of billions of dollars in debt weekly, his only major piece of legislation that has had none of the intended impact, inability to make a declarative decision--or stick with a previous one--on a war, have left President Obama very open to criticism. How has he dealt with it? Blame a cable news network, blame radio hosts, blame political opponents and go raise money for the party. By putting targets out there for his ardent supporters, targets at Fox News, targets on Rush Limbaugh, targets on Republican members of Congress, targets on Bush, Obama takes focus off of his lack of leadership to achieve goals.

Lack of leadership is not the reason cohesive health care reform has not passed in Congress, lack of leadership is not the reason we have burgeoning deficits and debt, lack of leadership is not why we are stuck in "what now?" in Afghanistan; no these problems exist because Fox News asks hard questions that other media are not, Rush Limbaugh leads the Republican Party, the Republican Party is evil in the pockets of special interests bent on destroying the Administration and Bush is to blame for Afghanistan and everything else.

Evading responsibility, evading major policy pronouncements and supporting them through Congress, evading making difficult decisions that will upset some within his own party have put a leak in Obama's balloon. What is leaking is his political capital as members of his party are seeing how little support they are getting for their policies and objectives. Like foot soldiers in some 17th Century battle, members of Congress are being sent out to face the enemy, being sacrificed so as to protect the King behind the lines of battle. While sitting in the castle making pronouncements and blaming others, the loyal foot soldiers press on into the arrows, spears and swords. Foot soldiers who can be sacrificed as long as the King remains popular. As President Obama's political capital runs to empty, so to does that of his loyal foot soldiers.

If I'm a Congressional Democrat I'm pissed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vandals and Vandalism

Think about vandalism and chances are you think about graffiti, initials etched in storefront windows, busted public property. Think about the vadals who wreak the damage and chances are you think young boys and men, pants half way down their asses, gangbangers, delinquents, school drop outs and malcontents.

Most of us are not very often directly affected by vandalism as described in the opening paragraph, unless we own a retail business, live near a sketchy part of town, or have a home with unruly teenagers in the neighborhood. Secondarily we are affected, seeing some idiots' initials painted on the highway overpass, gang signs scrolled on the alleys in an area we traverse through, initials etched in the wall over the urinal or on the mirror in the restaurant's restroom. If our garage door or block wall is tagged we get upset, blame the lowlife's with nothing better to do than cause wonton destruction of other people's property and paint over the markings. We tell the story at lunch in the office and at the next neighborhood cocktail party, "what's happening to our neighborhood?" We spend a few bucks and some time on washing and painting and on we go with our lives.

Vandalism of property, while violating, frustrating, agravating and upsetting is fairly rare for most of those who would read this blog, or who live in most areas of Long Beach, or other areas. Property vandalism and graffiti is generally confined to inner-urban areas, areas with high poverty numbers and gang membership and public facilities and structures. That said almost all of us are greatly affected by vandalism on a regular basis and pay significant amounts of money to protect ourselves from vandalism.

Do you have anti-virus software on the computer you are using to read this? Spamware to eliminate or at least filter out the majority of promotions for erectile dysfunction, free software, cheap designer watches and stocks that are guaranteed to quadruple in value in days? Anti-spyware to prevent programs that imbed on your computer and relay sites you visit and/or usernames and passwords to "bots" that store the data so it can be sold? How much are you spending to protect yourself from Trojan viruses with the binary version of Trojans?

Saturday I was working on my laptop when suddenly I was unable to close any programs, and every thing was frozen. You have probably been in that position. You hit the left-click on the mouse, you hit the right click on the mouse, you hit escape, you hit control-alt-delete, you "End Program Now", and still your computer just mocks every move. With Windows Operating Systems you get used to some amount of freezing and know the drill, close as many programs as you can and re-start (Leslie is a Mac user, it seems these things never happen to her, I take it as proof that most virus, spyware and malware writers are Apple employees). Usually this solves the problem and you continue on in Windows version of computer bliss until it happens again.

Saturday none of the standard procedures worked. So I escalated. I did the hard shut down, using the power button to turn off the computer. With my limited scope of knowledge, limited to computer pros but amazingly broad to many of my peers, I went through different steps that worked in the past--nope. My laptop was seized up. Did it die? Was it a software glitch and needs a wack like when the television goes blank? I got the sweats thinking of the amount of time that might be sucked out of my life, work hours and days lost to rebuilding my laptop with programs, databases, configurations. I just went through this early in the year when my hard drive crashed. Frustrated, defeated, helpless, angry, there were no positive emotions over this incident. One minute perfectly fine, the next a hunk of plastic and gigabytes.

Using the power of on-line networking a friend suggest "Ask Erik". When I dropped off Mr. Acer he said, "you may have an infection." But I have software that has anti-virus, anti-spyware, scans websites, scans emails, how? Feeling somewhat positive in the competence of Erik, and somewhat despondent over what my coming week could look like. Thankfully my trust in Erik was well founded. "You had a bunch of infections that appear to have built up and today they seized up your software." And, and, and??? "It works fine." Phew!

I had infections, infections that wormed around my anti-virus software and embedded in my laptop. How? Speaking with Erik and doing some research it appears that many legitimate websites, by legitimate I mean national retailers, honest retailers, media sites can have infections. One national newspaper had worked with an advertiser with a worm embedded in its pop-up ads, the paper did not find out for over a month. Hackers target whomever they wish and the more popular a site the greater the challenge. It seems just as virtually every home in Southern California has termites, even if were just fumigated last month they have already returned, almost every computer in use has some infections. The good news is many, or most, of the infections are somewhat benign--until they build up over time. Others of course are not.

There are three main types of viruses, to the experts who delve into them there are of course many, many more, but most computer viruses fall into one of these categories. The most tame is a program released by some kid seeing what he can do with his computer and programing knowledge. While it can do some harm, it is usually easily caught and removed.

The next level is somewhat more malicious and is a virus that is released that harms Operating Systems and disables or removes key components to its software. The guys who write and release this type of virus have already been at work on Microsoft Windows 7; they see a new software release as a challenge and race each other to see who can crack it first. These viruses are damaging and can result in loss of data, and significant time in trying to clean the infected computer, possibly wiping out the Operating System and re-loading it. These can cost you time and money to cure.

The third level is a virus that is written for profit by very skilled programmers uleashing trojan programs that enter your computer, release their programs and collect information. The collected information is then sent back to a series of computers where the information is collected, stored and then sold. What is taken? Anything from sites you visit that is sold to companies that generate targetted spam, to user names and passwords for your bank and credit cards. The intention of those who write and use these types of viruses are not in it for any games or just to do it, they are after big money. The purpose is to write software to infiltrate thousands, millions, of personal computers, lift targetted information and return it to a specific place, all undected. Big, big money is paid to programmers with this type of skill.

So who are these guys engaged in cyber-vandalism and crime? Guys is the correct gender, according to CyberSight. Several articles from early in the 21st Century were more specific saying virus writers were overwhelming, "14 to 34 year old males without girlfriends who spend hours on-line and on their computers." Not a shock as it represents our typical vision of a computer nerd hacking away in the dark his room filled with empty Jolt Cola bottles lit by the light off his monitor. But as the stakes go up this profile changes to a more mature, more seasoned and more dangerous character.

The are many parrallels to property vandalism and cyber vandalism. Many of the tags we see are from tagging crews of young kids in it for the thrill and "look what we did." Many are not criminals, beyond defacing and destruction of property they are not violent or ill-intended. They are really not aware of the costs to buidling owners and society for cleaning up after their crimes. Many virus writers also fall into this category, look what I did, leaving messages in their viral software for other virus writers, they have crews that work together and it is all a game done for the thrill. While their viruses are become more sophisticated, many outgrow the practice and move on to more legitimate endeavors.

Some graffiti however is used to mark territory for gangs and their main source of income: drug dealing. The graffiti lets other gangs know to stay away. The purpose of the graffiti is to mark and defend territory. Malicious viruses that are solely meant to damage as many computers as possible are often released by someone with a grudge against a particular software maker or company. The virus is a form of marking and staking territory and letting the targets know who is in control.

Behind the markings is the revenue. The guy with the drugs, the wholesaler who gets his drugs from somewhere else, the supplier who manufactures the drugs. Similarly with the trojan viruses and programs meant to capture personal information for the purpose of targeting advertising or worse, stealing funds or credit access. These are sophisticated operations that are very difficult to detect and increasingly are operating in foreign countries. From what I read if I ever go to Brazil I will not bring my laptop nor sign onto any of my bank or credit card sites. Eastern Europe and Russia are burgeoning regions for virus writers looking to capture financial information. As evidenced by the reports the last few years, their targets are moving from the personal PC to the banks and credit card companies themselves.

Vandalism is vandalism, whether we can see it in big black letters scrawled on the side of the local bank or we cannot see it as it works its way through our computers. In the one case we present the perpetrator as thugs and junior criminals with no sense of right and wrong, in the other we picture some over-caffeinated geek. The mind sets of the graffiti vandal and the viral vandal however are very similar, typically different socio-economic backgrounds but similar in their ability to connect right and wrong, and the severity of their crimes. As we move further from the junior vandal however we see a more devious and deceptive group of highly organized, highly sophisticated and very focussed individuals.

Prosecution of cyber crimes is difficult and rare. More laws do not seem to stem the tide of new viruses, scams and schemes; in fact it seems the stakes are being raised as the early virus writers have learned and refined their skills so they now feel confident attacking major financial corporations and even governments. While much is made about the visual graffiti we see and how the neighborhood is going down hill, very little is said or brought up in mainstream media and conversations of the millions and millions lost and stolen through cyber vandalism.

Here are some resources you may find useful in adding protection to your computer, as I have experienced not all are perfect!

Fight spam: Our company uses to screen our e-mails, it catches about 100 a day for me personally--once in a while a legitimate email gets caught but it is easy to view the screened emails and get the ones you want. Lately it has been stopping about 5-10 viral emails every day.

Anti-Virus: use a program that automatically updates at least once a week, ideally it updates daily as it keeps in front of newly discovered viruses.

Computer assistance: I already told you about Ask Erik in meeting with him I discovered I know several of his clients. He is a great guy and very good at what he does.

Wear protection!

Sunday, October 25, 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 October 19, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Is there a harder alarm to get up to then the first one after vacation?

Is H1N1, “Swine Flu”, Obama’s Katrina?

Why is the packaging on Trader Joe’s products so hard to open?

Does anyone think that crickets chirping could be heard for the lack of noise over the White House attacks on a major news outlet if the Bush Administration had frozen out MSNBC, CNN or even the Toledo Blade?

Do you also laugh when you place the emphasis on the last syllable of Morongo (Casino)?

What is the harder/worse day at work: the day before your vacation or the day you get back?

Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck?

When did the definition of transparency change, mid-January or mid-July?

In this economy a posting by a company that its profits fell by 50% is not a bad thing, right?

Baby backs or St. Louis?

Should pet owners get a tax break?

What happens when NBC does a negative story or questions a statement from the Obama Administration? They will do one at some point won’t they?

Does the City of LA need to call Mike Diamond the Smell Good Plumber?

Locking people out of meetings allows you to then say they have had no input in the discussion?

Can you name a company or industry that is not subject to Federal Regulations?

Does the White House have the legal right to dictate pay to any company subject to Federal Regulations?

What is the dividing line between a decrepit, old, long vacant building housing vermin and a historical piece of architecture that needs to be saved? And how come no one steps up to “save” these buildings until they are going to be demolished?

Kid #1 Question: Do you like to sing?

What is happening with the Iranian protestors who were arrested?

Which is Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker, still alive?

How long has it been since you’ve had homework?

Kid #2 Question: Do you like to take pictures?

How do you express your true self?

Do you chew the cheese of your In-N-Out wrapper?

Should cats be licensed?

How grateful am I that Erik of Ask Erik Computer Services was willing to take Mr Acer the Laptop in on a Saturday and revive him?

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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Refill The Trough

After news media began reporting about a possible "Stimulus II" program being put together by the White House and members of Congress, the word "stimulus" disappeared from the lexicon of Washington Democrats. Instead of talking about another package of stimulus pork spending White House and Treasury Department officials have spoken about "range of suggestions" and "benefits." Smart enough to not put together one big bill with the spending and label, White House officials and Congress are looking to hide the spending in other bills going through the process.

When Congress convened in January it put together with the White House a $787 billion "stimulus" package labelled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed with no Republican votes in the House and it took three Republicans (one now a Democrat) crossing the aisle and holding the vote open for one Senator to return from his mother's wake in Ohio to pass in the Senate. The entire process took two weeks to spend three-quarters of a trillion dollars intended to stimulate the economy by funding "shovel ready" public projects and prevent unemployment from reaching 9%--Obama's stated objectives.

Once the package was passed the details began to come out, and it was discovered that none of the money would hit the economy until September of this year and that by December 2009 only about 10% of the funds would be spent. The bulk of the spending would not occur until 2010, most of it in the Spring and Summer--conveniently before the November mid-term elections. In the meantime the unemployment rate has climbed to 9.8% in September and many areas are seeing job loss continue at a rapid rate. Clicking the play button on this site one sees the expansion of employment and then unemployment across the country from 2004 through mid September 2009.

With virtually no money from Stimulus I having impacted the economy, it is slowly putting the brakes on its slide and trending towards bottoming out. This is being done as the private sector restructures, slowly rebuilds and revamps for the next economy. With banks still not extending credit to small businesses, the backbone of the American economy, cash is amassing and cherry picking investment and lending opportunities. Part of the reason for lack of lending are shifting regulations from the Fed for banks and increased audits and pressure regarding the loans they are making. Many strong banks are withholding loans from applicants who do not have very strong qualifications for fear the Fed will step in and take them over, force a buy out or push more of the TARP regulations on them. Other banks are just sitting back borrowing funds at zero percent interest from the Fed and lending it to customers at 6% and only to those with the strongest qualifications, the old saying if you don't need a loan you qualify.

With that as the backdrop, $700 plus billion in Stimulus I still in the pipeline to hit the economy, banks getting flush with cash, unemployment at 9.8% and rising, American companies beginning to turn the corner and most economists predicting recession ending sometime in the late 1st quarter or early 2nd quarter 2010, Obama and members of Congress are itching to spend more money. I say why?

With a deficit approaching $2 trillion (do we even register trillion any more), a push to pass health care reform that will add another trillion to the budget, the Federal Reserve purchasing Treasury bills and mortgage back securities to the tune of over a trillion dollars by April 2010, the dollar dropping even further, our economy is building for a massive influx of inflation, which will bring higher rates, choke any borrowing that is happening and cut off consumer spending. Adding another $200 billion to this equation is feeding the inflation build up and is not needed economically.

Politically however, with poll numbers dropping and the media finally beginning to ask real questions of Obama and the White House, spending another hundred billion or two in benefits, pork projects in selected Congressional Districts certainly can't hurt as Congress gets ready to adjourn for 2009 and begin their re-election campaigns for the primaries in the Spring and general elections next November. And that is all there is to additional spending: political placement of government funds so incumbents can return to their districts touting how much federal funds they have brought to their districts. Forget the trillion dollar deficits and who will pay the bills, look what I have today!

Instead of trying to buy opinion polls and using federal dollars to save key incumbents to keep a majority in Congress, President Obama should tell a populace concerned about the budget and deficits that patience is needed, the economy is improving and until Stimulus I has had time to reach the economy federal spending on new projects and programs will stop. Instead plan on using a revitalized and reborn economy and the higher revenue that will come from taxes to pay down the deficit that has exploded.

Leave the economy alone, concentrate on the deficit and control the spending in Washington. No Stimulus II, no matter what it is called or where the spending is hidden.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Thick Green Line

On Friday October 23rd the Long Beach Police Department will be operating under an interim Chief of Police. Commander Billy Quach will fill the role while a search is conducted to replace out going Chief Tony Batts. Batts is moving up to Oakland to take over the role of Chief of Police for the Other City By The Bay. As the City Manager's office conducts its search for a new Chief of Police there is a very large issue that will sit at the center of the table all applicants will have to address: how many cops are needed to protect the citizens and businesses of Long Beach?

This has been a brewing issue that is as much of a political hot potato locally as social security reform is nationally. No politician wants to be the first to jump on the "we have enough cops" bandwagon because as soon as s/he makes that statement sure enough the next day's paper will have news of some heinous crime. Balancing this is the huge percentage of the city budget that goes to pay for the police department. The city is facing budget deficits that reach into tens of millions, and while a recent agreement has been reached with the Long Beach Police Officers Association to trade current raises for future raises, the budget crisis has just passed one year down the road. What is left to trade?

How many cops are enough? For the past several years residents have been thrilled to hear reports from the LBPD that crime is down in all areas: violent crime, petty crimes, burglaries, crimes against people and crimes against property. Recently it was reported that crime in Long Beach had returned to levels of the early 1970's; but how many residents feel they can turn their kids loose all day the way many of us were turned loose during those times?

It seems as if we have had two different departments, one reports dropping crime rates and successful law enforcement efforts that have achieved those dropping rates; the other department goes to City Council and says more sworn personnel are needed to control crime in our city. How many cops are enough?

Long Beach is in litigation now with over 800 members of the force, the city is being sued for back pay and overtime by the officers for time spent pre- and post-shift putting on uniforms, cleaning weapons and cars and other tasks that must be fulfilled as part of their jobs but that are not done on the clock. This lawsuit has the city divided between those who seen the cops as trying to get the city to pay them what they deserve for fulfilling obligations of the job and those who see the officers as gold-diggers trying to squeeze more money from a broke city that could be using the resources spent fighting the suit elsewhere--not to mention the funds if the cops win. Against the backdrop of a city budget process that has already shown residents the millions and millions of dollars paid in overtime, members of the force are asking for more. If they win it will drastically change the budget for the department, increasing the pay for every officer who will now log overtime on every shift. How many cops are enough?

Residents and politicians need to ask: how much crime are we willing to tolerate? What is our level of comfort regarding crime? Ten murders, five rapes, 200 auto thefts, and 500 residential burglaries? Fifteen, twelve, 250 and 600? None, none, ten and 100? It seems an odd question to ask because the obvious answer is no one should tolerate any crime, but zero crime is a strong vision for a community but not a reality for an urban area of half a million people with a significant portion of the population living in poverty. So how much is enough? Are we satisfied with the current levels of crime?

How many cops are enough? Does the city need to reform the budget to hire more uniformed officers? Do we have enough cops on the street now that are obviously doing a great job as seen by the dropping crime rates? Are we at "acceptable" rates of crime and if so why do we need more cops? If the City loses the overtime lawsuit do we have to cut the number of officers on the police force because of budget constraints that will result?

These are the questions that will have to be answered by all serious candidates for the job of Top Cop in Long Beach. Even more important, these are questions that have to be answered by our City Manager and members of City Council. How many cops are enough?

Sunday, October 18, 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 October 12, 2009 here are some questions I have had, vacation version as we have spent the week in Rancho Mirage:

Thing 1 or Thing 2?

Where is the accounting for the bonds already passed for the Delta and water issues in Northern California?

What percentage of the military is gay?

Have we become overly sensitive as a culture/society?

Neapolitan ice cream, which flavor do you hit the hardest?

What is your SPF?

Cheddar, Swiss or American?

Lounge chairs under the umbrella or out in the sun?

Do you think Long Beach will conduct a thorough search for a new police chief or will it promote from within?

What is your favorite rum drink?

How close are your at-home-regular and vacation sleep routines?

Will Congress pass health care reform before it adjourns October 30th?

What is your special vacation indulgence?

Hat or visor?

Do you read newspapers when your are on vacation?

Isn’t rooting for the Yankees like rooting for JP Morgan or Goldman Sacks?

Are you satisfied with your auto insurance?

Where do we go from here?

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back To Health Care

As Summer gets further away and Fall ensconces much of the country the town hall debates, the protests, the marches, the nasty statements, have settled back into committee rooms and back offices of Washington D.C. and the halls of Congress. Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its version of health care reform and it appears headed to the Senate floor. Where it will probably get shot down.

Meanwhile across the building Speaker Nancy Pelosi is said to have gathered her strongest allies in the Democratic Party and is hammering out her own version of health care reform to put through the House of Representatives. Where it will probably get shot down.

In July it was critical, in the eyes of the President and senior Democratic leadership, that health care reform be passed by August, September, now the date has been moved to the November recess. But we are no closer today than we were when Obama took the Oath of Office.

So what to do about health care reform? There are many who feel governments should learn more from the private sector on how to run their business of governing. Health care reform is an area where the practices of private business could lead to health care reform that will be long lasting and positive for America.

First let's take a basic look at the problem. We have a huge amount of press and anxiety in some corners of the country because approximately 30 million Americans do not have health insurance coverage (I am aware that the White House and others have tossed out up to 45 million uninsured "in" America, but this includes illegal aliens). This amounts to approximately 10% of the population. So when it comes to costs of covering these 30 million people consider many of them have the opportunity for insurance but elect not to purchase it, while others are without and truly want insurance. So 10% uninsured that we want insured. Of the 90% with insurance polls suggest that upwards of 85% are satisfied with the insurance coverage they have. So 77% of the population happy with insurance, 13% unhappy with insurance and 10% without insurance but want it. Approximately 90% of those with insurance wish their premiums were lower and quit rising every year at renewal.

From the provider side, doctors and hospitals are getting squeezed by the government for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements (currently about 18% of charges, due to drop in January) and insurance companies are looking to cut better and better contracts which means less reimbursements. The way the game is played reimbursements are based on a percentage of actual charges, charges must be in-line with other health care providers in a region, so every provider inches up their costs whenever possible to get the inches up in reimbursement. As this goes along government regulations increase the costs of personnel, equipment installation, oversight and other operating factors. Approximately 50% of hospitals in the country operate at a loss, were it not for private insurance reimbursements, which significantly outpace government reimbursements, many of those in the red ink category would close. So providers are getting less and treating more and the hospitals with less private contracts are in danger of closing.

Politics of course come into play on resolving this issue, a factor that is not an issue with the private sector--it is but not to the same extent dealing with shareholders or partners versus an electorate. Politically the President has been hemorrhaging political capital all summer and into the fall. His party has a large contingent that is aligned philosophically with the Republicans on health care reform and there are elections approaching in thirteen months that could cost Democrats the majority in the House, their filibuster proof 60 seats in the Senate or deep dents in those majorities. Passing health care legislation now will give Republicans thirteen months to pick out every issue within the legislation and make a case for how it is bad for the people of Greensboro, Columbia, Lexington or Talladega. It is easy for those on the coasts to say "big deal what they think," but those people vote and elect members of the House, and many of them did not see big margins in 2008.

Boiling this very complex problem into a few items: the overwhelming majority of Americans are satisfied or pleased with their health insurance, a small percentage of Americans are uncovered; health care providers are getting less and less for the same procedures under government contracts that could put them out of business; politically the party in power has an increasingly tenuous grasp on their majority heading into mid-term elections.

So what to do about health care reform? My advice to President Obama is this: take a long term approach and layout a plan for this and future Congresses to follow in a step by step manner, just as a private company would do when overhauling a process that is instrumental to their business but needs to be brought into the current era and technologies.

Were Obama to lay out a plan with time frames that are not days and weeks but rather months and years he would create a vision for Americans to follow to health care reform. Rather than tearing down the existing system that three-quarters of Americans are satisfied with in order to insure 10%, show a path of reform to existing processes and practices that will take several terms of Congress and will probably need to continue into the next Administration--be it his or someone else's. If the plan is working in 2012 he can pretty much guarantee his re-election based on his courage and vision to create a long term plan of reform that is methodical in its process rather than a short term plan that no one has read that is crammed with special interests and payouts that harm the entire system.

Step 1: Having admitted that Medicare/Medicaid is rife with fraud, abuse and waste, Obama creates as new department that only exists for two years, no permanent bureaucracy, that is composed of officials from Justice and Health and Human Services that is charged specifically with auditing the entire Medicare/Medicaid structure and correcting the waste, prosecuting the fraud and eliminating the abuse. With the savings from this audit and investigation contracts to health care providers are raised back to levels that would if not encourage at least not discourage their seeing patients. The remainder of the savings goes back into the general fund to cut deficits.

Step 2: Overhaul private insurance laws nationwide. While I am very much in favor of states rights over federal rights, in this instance the American public benefits if there are not 50 different regulatory bodies overseeing health insurance coverage. Allow insurance companies in Iowa to offer medical insurance in California and vice-versa--watch what happens to premiums when this type of competition is allowed into the marketplace. Next disconnect the insured from their employers and their insurance pools. Small and medium size companies, who employ the majority of Americans, are disproportionately impacted by a severe illness to one of its employees or beneficiaries, have a couple huge medical cases in a few years and watch premiums for everyone skyrocket. Further, too many employees are trapped in their employment situations because of the health benefits, having their own health insurance premiums and health savings accounts allows individuals to pursue better employment opportunities and will increase the efficiency, satisfaction and productivity across the nation. Just as employers make direct deposit into their workers checking accounts for salary and 401(k) accounts for retirement, so too can they make direct deposits into Health Savings Accounts that can be used for insurance premiums and co-pays. Make the individual responsible for seeking and obtaining their own medical coverage with a company, plan, deductible and payment that meets their family's ability and needs.

Step 3: The uninsured in our country already have access to health care, go into the emergency room of any hospital and you will see them sitting there waiting to be seen for routine medical care. Hospitals are not allowed to ration care based upon ability to pay, and the ethical and moral obligations of the health care providers prevent them from doing so as well. Beyond the moral aspect the legal aspect is one that is subject to legislation and enforcement. Allow a national database on uninsured patients, providing personal data such as name, date of birth and social security number, and reimburse health care providers for some of the cost of treatment. Not all of it but some of it. With the tracking the government can issue communications to those who appear to be abusing the system with liens and other fines to reimburse the costs through withholding, tax refunds, etc. Find a method that does not penalize the providers, does not unduly punish the tax payers and makes the individuals responsible for their health.

Sounds simple doesn't it? Present a plan with a realistic time line and reform the existing system within its current framework. It works for business and it would work for government if any of the elected officials had the courage to present a long term plan where implementation goes beyond their term of office. Voters would reward this type of vision and leadership if only given the chance.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Instant Run-Off Voting: Coming Soon?

Under the Long Beach City Charter elections for City Council go as follows: Every two years either the even Council Districts (2, 4, 6 and 8) or the odd Council Districts (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) have elections. Each council term is four years and current election law, as amended several years ago by the electorate, limits individuals to two terms in office; or rather as former Mayor Beverly O'Neill showed an incumbent finishing his or her second term cannot be on the ballot for another term, but can be elected by winning the election on write in ballots.

So every even year Long Beach has elections for City Council seats. The process is pretty simple, qualified candidates register and a primary is held. Since the offices are supposedly non-partisan no party affiliations are listed on the ballot. A primary election is held, unless there is only one candidate registered in which case there is no election (see 2008 elections). After the votes are tabulated, if one person gets 50% plus one vote s/he is declared the winner and will be installed as a member of the City Council. If no one achieves the 50% plus 1 threshold the top two vote getters have a run off several months later. The electorate then decides between the two candidates and the winner wins the election. To recap: unlimited number of candidates on the ballot, a primary election, if no candidate wins 50% plus one vote then a run off is held.

In years where an incumbent is being termed out the ballot fills up with anywhere from three to ten candidates, lately if there is an incumbent on the ballot s/he runs unopposed and there is no election for the seat. In years with multiple candidates there is always a run-off election after the primary. Here is where an issue develops. Elections cost money and to have a primary and then a general, or run-off, election creates additional costs for the city, in fact the run-off elections cost the city in excess of $1 million per the city clerk. If only these pesky elections did not cost so much! (Which they did not in 2008 as there was no election in the 2nd, 4th or 8th council districts due to lack of candidates beyond the incumbents and the 6th District was a landslide for Councilman Dee Andrews). But if there had been four run-off elections, well that could have cost the city $1 million. And that potential cost has many in Long Beach, and other cities, looking to reduce the number of elections that are held. What price democracy? Evidently for some in Long Beach not one million dollars.

Ah-ha! But they don't have to cost that much because of the latest trend in democracy: Instant Run-Off Voting! Instant Run-Off Voting, or IRV, allows voters to rank their preferences on the ballot from 1 to 3 with 1 being the most favored candidate. After the election if no one has 50% plus 1 of the total votes ranked number 1 then a run-off is held. The candidate with the least number of #1 votes is eliminated from the ballot and all his #2 votes are given to remaining candidates and votes are re-tabulated, no winner? Eliminate the remaining lowest vote getter and redistribute his #2 votes and recount the ballots. This process is continued until one candidate has the majority of the votes and is declared a winner. By ranking preferences the voter is saying, "if my candidate does not win the person I would next like to win is...." political scientists take this to mean, "if my candidate does not win this is who I would vote for in a run off election."

IRV is a pretty simple process, but so is making toast, programming a VCR or DVR and using turn signals and plenty of people get some or all of those wrong; which is one of the main criticisms of IRV: it is too complicated for voters to understand and there are plenty who do in fact screw up their IRV ballots (ubiquitous Florida joke here where it was shown even a regular ballot is beyond many voters). What about those who rank backwards? What about those who in a show of protest only put down 2's or 3's showing displeasure with all the candidates? How many voters will only put down a number 1?

In Long Beach, City Council must approve placing an Amendment to the City Charter on the ballot to change our voting procedure to Instant Run Off Voting. Supporting this so far are Robert Garcia, Suja Lowenthal and Gary DeLong, most vociferous in opposition at this point is 4th District Councilman Patrick O'Donnell. At this point there is no decision on Instant Run-Off Voting, my question is why not put it on the ballot and let the voters decide?

Here are some of the major reasons given to favor IRV:

* It saves money by eliminating elections
* It reduces "voter fatigue"
* It encourages more candidates to run for office
* It reduces mud-slinging as candidates run for voters #2 votes

Google "Instant Run-Off Voting" and you will see plenty of sites devoted to its cause. In reading through the different sites, seeing where it has been put into place and seeing where most of the support comes from it does appear to have a partisan support base in that most of it comes from the left or liberal side of politics. Not that it does not have its supporters from the right, see the support given by DeLong, but the overwhelming support is from the left side of the spectrum. And that is one of my biggest reactions to IRV: it will reduce the opportunity for candidates with opposing views, solutions to problems and approaches to big issues from engaging one-on-one for the voters as they do in a run-off.

Those who prefer the most liberal, or conservative, political approach number 1, then the next most ideological number 2, then the third most number 3. As a result, in my district for instance, the candidate who might have the second most number of number 1 votes could be a fiscal conservative, but could lose the election without a chance to challenge someone directly, instead he challenges a field of similar candidates. Might he have lost anyway? Sure, but the voters have not had a chance to see two candidates with opposing ideas go at it. Instead because of the voter base candidates know they must only appeal to one side of the spectrum and fight within that spectrum for number 2 and 3 votes--the opposing ideological side is discounted. I see IRV as reducing political dialogue.

Councilman O'Donnell was kind enough to send me a list of why he opposes IRV at this time, mostly he wants more time to pass so we can see the effects of IRV on other communities. One of his arguments is "IRV is being pushed as the new trend and cutting were term limits at one point...look before you jump." I could not agree more.

As I have told people who have asked, I am opposed to IRV. I do not feel a decision to alter democracy and our most fundamental right: to elect our representatives in government, should be decided because of cost. In my opinion IRV limits political discourse. Finally, with IRV we can, and probably will, end up with all our representatives holding office with none of them having received a majority of the votes from the citizens. Since when in America do we run for second best? Elevate to winner third place finishers?

All this said, I am open to debate and discourse on IRV. If it goes on the ballot is will pass, it has every where else it has been on ballots so far, because of the number of national organizations that support the idea and will flood Long Beach with pro-IRV material and information. As with any campaign it will come down to which side has more money and because of the national movements the pro-IRV side wins that contest from my research--and that is the price of this democracy.

Sunday, October 11, 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 October 5, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Best comic book hero?

Do you think it is relevant whether a candidate for elected office has every voted in an election for that office?

Are you now or have you ever been a jukebox hero?

You have to pick one: Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond?

Did you know the Station Fire is still burning?

Do you think the Nobel Peace Prize folks have already given it to Obama? Or do you think they will give it to Ahmadinejad? (Written Monday 10/5/09 as a joke, now Friday 10/09/09 and the winner is….)

Who would you have selected for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Is you household as excited as ours about the new SpongeBobSquarePants movie?

If 10% of your clients who make up a disproportionally large part of your expense sheet and a disproportionally small part of your income sheet have an issue where their proposed solution would dramatically impact the other 90% of your customers in a negative way, how would you address the issue?

Blackberry or iPhone?

Kid #1 Question: Do you like to dance?

You can make one change to current election laws, what would it be?

Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc?

You have two weeks, a $5000 budget, what country would you visit?

What is your passion?

What was your favorite story book as a child? Do/did you read it to your child(ren)?

What is your favorite restaurant?

When was the last time you wrote a letter or email to your Congressional Representative?

Do you read the comic pages?

Kid #2 question: Do you have a pool?

What was your biggest frustration this week?

Will you arrange a meeting this week to meet someone you have never met before?

You have the ability to make one policy decision for the school district, what is it?

How does a government stop government waste and excess?

Have term limits improved or worsened governance?

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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Choo-Choo? Boo-Boo!

I am not a train hater. From elementary school through high school I spent a lot of time on trains. For many years when we lived in Philadelphia and New York our Dad was a train commuter. We would take the train to see the Phillies or to Manhattan for the day. When we moved to Europe the summer vacation for high school kids was a backpack and a Eurail pass giving us the freedom to ride the rails throughout Europe. It is somewhat genetic as my grandmother, Sis as she was known throughout Sacramento, was always telling us stories of the West and the railroads. I might have been the first kid at Hillside Elementary in Berwyn, Pa. who knew what the Golden Spike was because of Sis. Her passion for the West and railroads culminated in her activism to get the California Railroad Museum built in Old Town Sacramento; in fact she died at a meeting for the committee building the museum. Trains are in our DNA.

That said our region, our state and our federal government have wasted billions and billions of dollars on trying to encourage Los Angelenos, Californians and Americans to ride the rails. One of the biggest government handouts nationwide goes to public transportation and the Oliver's of Rail are at the stew pot hands and bowls extended saying, "Please sir, I want some more."

Amtrack is the quasi-public private partnership that controls most of the passenger lines in the United States. It is a public private entity because the government owns the controlling preferred stock and is the sugar daddy that keeps the operation afloat. In 2008 Amtrack had approximately 28.7 passengers on its various rail routes. The bulk of these riders in the Northeast using Amtrack to commute as my Dad did in the 1970's. Also in 2008 Amtrack received $2.8 billion from Congress, which it will continue to receive for the next couple of years. It used to get a subsidy about about $1.5 billion but that was not enough as the cost of 19,000 employees and 21,000 miles of track were not supported by the train fares charged the passengers. So Amtrack operates at a loss of $90 per passenger that is made up by the taxpayers.
In California the voters in 2008 passed Proposition 1A which allowed the state to sell $9.95 Billion in bonds to partially fund a high speed train in California. The amount is woefully short of what is expected to be needed. Estimates of the cost for the high speed rail system in the state are up to $85 Using history as our guide for the future we can expect if and when this high speed rail is built to exceed $100 billion. As part of the high speed rail program the state is looking for "matching funds" to this effect our Governor Schwarzenegger this week asked the Federal Government for an donation to the high speed rail of $4.95 Billion.

For those keeping score that is $14.9 Billion of taxpayer funds for a high speed rail system that will connect the major cities. For what? Why does our state need a rail system that will get train travellers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (we have authority!) in 2:38.

I can fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 1:00 and it costs $100 or less any day, with numerous flight options. Other than someone who has a major fear of flying or an intense love of the rails would ride a train for two and a half times what it takes to fly from point A to point B, especially if the cost is the same.
What will be the fare? The only comparison we can use is the Acela Express which is Amtrak's version of high speed rail in the Northeast, hitting 115 mph for a 35 mile stretch. It is a comparable distance from Boston to Washington D.C., there are stops in New York and Philadelphia, but the ride takes over 6 hours. The cost? About $200 per ticket. For "high-speed" rail. Still cheaper than the one hour flight (about $30o) but you save five hours.

"But Europe has such a great train system." That is an argument of many who favor continued and higher government subsidies of public transportation and rail projects. And it is true, Europe does have a great train system. The reason is because Europe grew around its rail system. Towns and cities placed the rail station in the middle of town and built from there. Major cities such as Paris and Brussels have multiple train stations serving passengers north, east, south and west. America has grown around its highway system. We are an auto-centric culture. Drive around the country and look where new towns and communities have been built--near major transportation corridors, transportation meaning highways.
Those pushing high-speed rail in California are creating huge amounts of public debt for future generations, not just the debt to build the system but the future debt to support and subsidize a system that must operate at a loss to have any passengers. They are operating on a belief that Californians will want to ride the rails instead of the roads or skies, a belief based on fantasy or romance of the clickety-clack.

Unless....the government forces ridership of the public railways and buses of public transportation. One reason public transportation is so prevalent in Europe is not only that cities were designed with public transportation in mind, but also because those who use their cars are taxed tremendously. Registration fees are very high and the taxes on gas and oil push the price per gallon in Europe to over $5. This is a model that has support in the United States to force Americans to use transportation, impose higher taxes on gasoline, auto registration, turn freeways into toll roads, and increase the taxes on air travel. If you make the alternatives expensive enough then the cost of rail travel in terms of fares and time begins to drop relative to driving our own cars or flying commercial air.

It is time for Californians to take a realistic look at the huge cost of high-speed rail. It does not make any sense to spend billions and billions of dollars to create a rail system that will be uncompetitive with other means of transportation and cost billions more in annual subsidies to keep afloat.

Build a better choo-choo? I say, "Boo."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Transforming A Community: Blair Cohn

Friday night we did something we would not have thought about doing a couple of years ago: we spent the evening strolling Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls with friends for other parts of the city and their kids. At Expo the kids had their faces painted like Zombies (or Pandas), there were hot dogs and costumes for a buck. Up and down the street businesses had full tables, music and entertainment and the sidewalks were full of local neighbors and visitors from Belmont Shore, Los Altos, Downtown, North Long Beach, Wrigley. Bixby Knolls was a destination for Long Beach as everyone came to participate in First Fridays, an on going event on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls that occurs...yes the first Friday of every month. What better way to spend a Friday than to walk around with your kids painted in black theater make-up? Not many!

When Leslie and I moved into Bixby Knolls in August 1998 we had few options available for groceries, restaurants, entertainment and shopping. Slowly the area attracted some big chains, most notably O.S.H. and then the home run: Trader Joes.

Now we can walk to get groceries, we have three chain coffee stores we can visit within a block, sushi, burgers and beer, Lebanese, salons, and upscale ice cream all populate our local area of Bixby Knolls. But more important that than range of retail and restaurant opportunities available to us is the visiting that is occuring in the areas. We have a neighborhood that is engaged and supportive of our local businesses and businesses that are supportive of our local neighborhoods. Bixby Knolls is becoming more and more cohesive as a community. And for this we can thank one man: Blair Cohn.

Cohn is the Executive Director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. The BKBIA has been around for a while but has not had any significant impact on the area until Cohn came in as Executive Director. Cohn's hands are all over the BKBIA and its constant outreach to local neighborhoods to get residents and businesses engaged. In an economy when many businesses, big and small, are closing up shop, in Bixby Knolls we are seeing new businesses opening and existing businesses, while perhaps not thriving are staying open. When there are closings we here that it is more about leases and landlords than a decline in business. With the vibrancy of the area and the growth that is occuring landlords are using the opportunity to lift rents on long time tenants.

What has happened in Bixby Knolls? Cohn has brought to the BKBIA that the best way for the members of the BKBIA to survive and thrive was to capture the local residents as customers, loyal customers. How to do this? Cohn has developed with the assistance of his board of directors a litany of events throughout the year to attract not only local residents but visitors from all over the city to Bixby Knolls. Once here the visitors see and experience the great restaurants and shops, and hopefully return for their purchases and dining.

Here is a partial list of the events that are part of the Bixby Knolls scene these days:
First Fridays As mentioned this monthly event has local businesses staying open late, many have live music, many have activities for the kids and it is a wonderful evening strolling, seeing friends, sampling Bixby Knolls.
Bixby Knolls Strollers Meet every Saturday morning for a long walk around neighborhoods in the area, showing the different areas of Bixby Knolls and connecting neighbors to each other. What better way to make a new friend than to walk a couple of miles and have a meandering conversation?
Literacy Society a monthly book club where residents get together to discuss that month's book and once again the opportunity to meet each other and build new relationships.
Happy Hour Again once a month, the BKBIA holds a "Happy Hour" inviting residents and other business owners to visit a BKBIA business to learn about the business, meet other area businesses and residents and to learn about a local non-profit.
Monthly Supper Club Another event that is monthly, this one the first Monday of every month where a local restaurant is selected to host the Supper Club. It gives the restaurants a chance to host new guests and residents a chance to experience a restaurant they perhaps have not been to before.

These are just the regular events that Cohn has established. In addition there are events at the Expo building, a former furniture store that the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency has opened to the BKBIA for events and gatherings. Upcoming is a Jazz night, there are art exhibits and live music throughout the year.

Bixby Knolls is a vibrant, active, engaged and friendlier place because of Blair Cohn. As time goes by many may try to take credit for the resurrection of this part of our city, and to be truthful Cohn cannot do everything himself. It is very apparent however, that prior to Cohn's arrival at the BKBIA there was nothing happening in this part of town. Sure we got our TJ's and some local developers had redeveloped a few sites, but there was no cohesion and no sense of togetherness that exists today. While politicians and city officials gave lip service to the area about improvements, and we have had Atlantic repaved, there was no cohesion nor support between the two groups. For the first eight to nine years we lived in the area we saw incremental and traditional changes--new retail development, empty stores, people driving through. Now we see empty stores displaying art work. We see new businesses geared to children. We see restaurants and shops with cars in front and patrons inside. This activity coincides with Cohn's arrival, coincidence? Hardly.

As a resident of the area I extend my heartfelt thanks to Blair and all his efforts to engage and connect our local businesses and residents to each other for a healthier and happier community. Taking a seemingly simple plan, create simple events that regularly bring together residents and businesses, Cohn has created a community that has come together. With pride when asked where we are from we say, "Bixby Knolls of course!"

Thanks Blair!

Visit the BKBIA Site to learn more about the business association and the events coming up in Bixby Knolls: Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association

Sunday, October 4, 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 September 28, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Should the LA District Attorney be pursuing extradition of Roman Polanski?

Who goes further in the playoffs the Angels or Dodgers?

Did you answer that last question with your head or your heart?

Why is the worst time to have a meeting when you scheduled it?

How out of touch is Hollywood and its “stars?”

Do you care that Europe and others are upset that Polanski has been arrested and we are trying to extradite him to face his sentencing for the crime he is guilty of committing?

How many more election cycles will we have where the theme for any of the politicians is not “Change?”

Brush or comb?

Kid #1 Question: Do you think white clouds or grey clouds are prettier?

Do you regularly attend religious service?

Instead of flying to Copenhagen, would it not have been a more powerful statement for President Obama to cancel the trip to Denmark and instead actually go to Chicago, stand where that poor boy was murdered and make a statement there about bringing Chicagoans together, Americans together and if possible the world together in Chicago for the Games?

American or Import?

How is it that those who preach “open and honest communication” seem to accept it the least?

For Verizon: How much lower would my monthly bill be if you stopped sending us five mailers a week for each account marketing Fios—which we already have for internet and phone service?

Why is the minute you have to do something so much shorter than the minute you have to wait for something?

Baked or mashed?

Have those defending or apologizing for Polanski or criticizing the LA District Attorney for trying to extradite him lost all moral standing to speak in favor of women’s rights?
What act of random kindness did you do this week for a total stranger?

What memorable natural disasters/storms have you experienced?

Kid #2 question: Do you like to draw?

When was the last Olympics held in South America?

Isn’t this headline from the Press-Telegram, “LBPD Says Shooting Gang Related,”
equivalent to ‘Dog Bites Man’?

When was the last time you had pizza for breakfast?

Where does responsibility lie for juvenile delinquency and crime?

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.