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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sanna Slauce: A Christmas Story

Christmas. Santa. Little boys and girls excitedly leaving out cookies and milk, though I remember one Christmas our Dad talked us into leaving out a Pabst. What a wonderful time of year to be around children. Starting sometime after Thanksgiving our culture begins its collective effort in building excitement for children and the visit they will have from Santa Clause while they are sleeping on Christmas Eve.

Parents look forward to the first Christmas where their little one will know about Santa and the excitement in their home as December 25th nears. Of course, it helps if the excitement of the parents is shared by the child in an attitude of titillation, joy and happy excitement and not terror, fear and fright.

Christmas 2001 would be our first Christmas as parents with a child old enough to understand Santa Clause and his mission--bring presents to good boys and girls. Sure she had seen Santa the year before, but as a one year old her cognitive recognition and memory a year later was zip. Leslie and I were ready for this year, her first with Santa. One problem. Blaire was not.

We began our indoctrination Thanksgiving weekend. Blaire was showed pictures and little statues and dolls of Santa Clause and we explained who he was. "Santa Clause is a magical man who travels the world on Christmas Eve bringing toys and presents to little boys and girls." Simple enough. We believe in Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle, Cinderella, Snow White. Santa is right up there with them except he comes to you and brings presents. He is jolly, he is kind, he has a great laugh, and he knows everything.

That Thanksgiving weekend the local business association was closing down the main boulevard and trucking in a ton or two of "snow." Also making his debut appearance in Long Beach would be Santa Clause himself. The snow and Santa setting are a few blocks from the house and we bundled up Blaire and headed off. While we would mention seeing Santa, Blaire was singularly focused, "See snow Momma, see snow Dadda." Okay, we were seeing snow--but you know we were going to see Santa Clause too.

When we arrived at the snow scene it was uncontrolled chaos. There was a huge pile of "snow" with kids climbing up it and sliding down, there was a thick covering of "snow' all around the street and kids of all ages were scooping it, piling it and throwing it. Blaire went and stood on the slushy, cold, icy covering and grabbed some, "Ohhh! Cold!"

BAM! A ball of slushy, chunky, icy snow smashed Blaire in the side of the face. Naturally instant tears and a Dad looking to see who dared hit a defenseless two year old girl in the face with a snowball. A small boy, about seven, was coming towards us in tears with his mom. He was the offender and offered up an apology and a wail. Apology accepted, Dad appeased, daughter clinging tightly to his neck sobbing.

Okay, the snow didn't go as planned. But we still has Santa Clause.

At this point Blaire had really even said "Santa Clause." She could barely get out "Merry Chrisss-sssss-missss." And she had exhibited zero interest in our excitement and conversations regarding the jolly fellow.

We wander over to wear a chair and setting is ready for Santa Clause to arrive. and a crowd is forming on the sidewalk. After about fifteen minutes we hear a noise building and look down the street. There is Santa Clause! He is riding on the back of a big firetruck with lights blinking. A couple of police escorts on motorcycles are hitting the siren off and on, everyone is cheering, Santa is standing and waving and ho-ho-hoing.

"Look Blaire! There he is! There is Santa!" I move towards the curb with holding Blaire up to see, he beat red cheek glistening still.

"HI SANTA!" I yell and wave. He sees me and waves back! Instantly pain shoots through my body as ten little fingers seize my neck and skin and hold on for dear life. Head buried against my chest as I try to maneuver her to see Santa, Blaire is not interested in Mr. Clause.

Maybe if she sees him up close and watches the other kids she will feel more comfortable. I walk down the side of the line of kids waiting to sit on his lap, and as we get closer to where he is sitting her claw-like grip on me becomes even stronger. "Look there is one of your friends from gymnastics sitting on Santa's lap." "See that little boy laughing on Santa's lap?" Kid after kid crawls up on Santa's lap, spills his wants, gets a candy cane and slips off.

No effect, Blaire is not going to see Santa.

As the weeks pass towards Christmas we continue our kindness assault in defense of Santa. Leslie and Blaire attend a Tot-Lot a couple of times a week and Santa came to visit the kids. As re-told to me Blaire wanted nothing to do with Santa, screamed like crazy--not realizing mom's mission to get a picture of her child on Santa's lap. Got a book from him and fled. Later that evening when I got home and asked "Did you see Santa today?" I got a nod.

"Sanna Slauce give me book!"

Okay! She used his name, or her version of it, and got a present and seemed happy with the result of the interaction!

As Christmas came near we reiterated to her that Santa was coming and would be delivering presents in the house and putting gifts and candy in her stocking hanging over the fireplace. She was disinterested and wary of the prospect. At times we thought there was a thaw in the icy regard for Santa, but overall her attitude remained consistent.

Leslie's birthday is a few days before Christmas. This particular year I took the day off and we went to Disneyland. As part of Disney's Christmas theme they convert the Haunted House to "Nightmare Before Christmas" after the movie. With a decided lack of forethought and naivete we took Blaire into the house. With a skeleton posing as "Santy Claws" and other ghosts and ghouls. For our efforts for the next few days we were constantly reminded, "me ride scary house...saw ghost."

Which leads us to December 23rd. Two days before Christmas. The next evening we will travel to Leslie's mother's home for Christmas Eve dinner with her family. Then home, bed and dreams of sugar plums while Santa visits and drops some gifts on us.

Uh-un. Nope, not gonna happen in this house.

Sitting in our kitchen Blaire informs Leslie and I that "Me no want Sanna Slauce my howse."

"But honey, he has to come in the house so he can leave the presents."

"No, no, no Sanna Slauce my howse."

"He even leaves a bone for Cooper."

"No Sanna Slauce come my howse."

We were getting no where. She was adamant. Sanna Slauce would not be setting foot in her house. But what about presents? Nope. Candy? Nope. Presents for Mom and Dad? Nope.

I picked up the phone. "Blaire, I'm going to call Santa and see what we can work out. Okay?"

She looks at me with big eyes and slowly nods her head.

"Hello, this is Dennis Smith, father of Blaire Smith in Long Beach. Can I please speak with Santa?"

Cupping the phone, "They are getting him, he's a little busy."

"Hi! Santa! Hey I need a little help. Blaire is a little frightened of the idea of you coming into our house and dropping off presents."

I give a few hmms, uh-huhs, and nod my head, "Blaire, he says you won't even know he was here."

"No Sanna Slauce in my howse."

"Did you hear that Santa?" I listen to Santa and nod.

Blaire looks at me."How 'bout Sanna leave preznts on Doo-wah's bed?"

Now we are getting somewhere! Doo-wah is what Blaire called our dog Cooper. He had a bed outside.

"So you are okay with Santa coming and leaving his presents and stuff for us outside?"

"Yes, Sanna Slauce ow-side."

"And then Mommy and Daddy can bring them in?"


"Okay, Santa I think we have a solution. Instead of landing on the roof and coming down the chimney, would you mind leaving the presents outside for us?.....I know it is not normal but it would make Blaire happy. We have a covered patio in the back and the dog's bed....yes, Cooper's bed, is there and Blaire wants to know if you can leave her presents there......Yes, Leslie and I will bring them inside for you......Yes Santa we will leave a plate of cookies and a cup of milk out for you."

"Okay Blaire, Santa is okay with leaving your presents outside. He will leave them by the glass door on Cooper's bed and Mom and Dad will bring them inside when we wake up. Is that okay?"

"That okay."

"Thanks Santa, we appreciate it."

And with those negotiations completed Blaire was ready for her visit, sort of, from Sanna Slauce, who dutifully left our presents and gifts outside on the dog's bed for Leslie and I to bring inside Christmas morning while Blaire still slept.

Since then she has come around and is a big fan of the Big Man. She and her sister had their annual visit to sit on his lap and let him know the presents they wanted and she gave her Mom a letter addressed to Santa Clause to drop off in the mailbox at Macy's.

We are ready and anxious for Santa's visit on Thursday night.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Unforgettable Gift

Close your eyes and picture Christmas morning and chances are you will picture a particular Christmas from your childhood. Everyone in their pajamas and bathrobes, wrapping paper everywhere, Mom nursing a cup of coffee on the couch, Dad nursing something a little stronger and mumbling something about "hair of the dog." Even though you don't have a dog.

That was the Christmas you got the slot cars, or the Swiss Army knife, the table top hockey game, the talking doll that wet itself, the "fur" coat, or the new skis (for Southern Californians plug in surfboard).

As our memory progresses to our adult years we transition from gifts we received to gifts we gave. The necklace, the special book, the lavish vacation. Yes, giving is truly more satisfying and gratifying. The anticipation of the recipient's reaction, the excitement of not wanting to wait until Christmas for her to open it. The smugness of knowing a wonderful secret. Yes, the range of emotions we go through knowing we have a great gift to give far surpasses the emotions we have of receiving. Too bad those emotions aren't always put to use sooner in the gift giving process.

Few things match the feeling, you know you have an unforgettable gift, and cannot wait for it to be opened. But, like "amazing", "incredible" and "unbelievable", "unforgettable" isn't necessarily positive. Sometimes we give a gift and within a second of it being opened wish we had settled on "forgettable."

Christmas 1999 was our fifth as husband and wife and first as parents. Blaire had been born in September. We decorated the house and loved seeing four stockings above the fireplace (Cooper, the dog, already had one. Of course). We were receiving "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments and cards. Yes, our home was ready for Christmas, with a child and all.

Before we were married I lived in a small apartment in Belmont Shore and had several of the standard bachelor accouterments. In particular I had a small 19" color television whose primary purpose was that I could play Sony Playstation games while watching a game on the bigger television. Its secondary purpose was being able to watch two games at the same time--key during College Bowl Game Season. When I moved into our first home the set and the video games came with me. When we moved into the home we currently occupy in 1998 I upgraded to Playstation II and hooked it up to the big television in the family room.

For those without children yet, or those whose children have been grown for many years and may not remember, let me briefly give you what the routine is for new borns. First, while there is some accommodation to the clock, the clock they accommodate to has nothing to do with the one you are accustomed to using. Every three hours they eat. In Blaire's case this meant latching on to Leslie and nursing away. She never would take a bottle, why go recycled when you can get the real thing plus Mom fussing over you? After they eat they get sleepy. Now they have a few options. They can poop and then sleep or sleep and poop in their dreams--baby's choice. So before the next feeding in about two and a half hours, they are changed and put somewhere to sleep. Sometimes they choose another option, staying awake. They can't move, certainly at three months no walking, or crawling, or even rolling over. So if they are awake your options are to carry them around while you do things, or hold them while you sit down somewhere comfortable. Like on a couch. Watching a game. Or playing video games.

A few years BP (Before Parenthood) Leslie had given me a Gameboy for my birthday. Very cool. A little portable video game player with some games. One of the games was Tetris. "Uh, cool, Tetris..." Turns out Leslie really liked Tetris and on trips she would grab the Gameboy and play several games. No issues with me. My girl like video games.

Christmas 1999 for all its excitement for being Blaire's first Christmas was not without its challenges as well. Several days after Blaire was born partners and I formed a new company. We were working to have offices ready for business so when the new century opened so would we. There would be a prolonged period of little to no income as we kept payroll, rent and supplies paid. Uncertainty, nervousness and trepidation encroached on our economic planning. And also our gift buying budgets. Leslie and I had agreed on very small budgets for a gift for one another. Better to have reserves with the coming changes in our business than to wish later we had not been extravagant and splurging at Christmas.

Being a guy. Which most women know to read: simple-minded, short-sighted, ignorant person. Being a guy, I began to think, "What would be a simple gift that Leslie will really enjoy? What can I get her that she will be able to use with the baby in the house and allow her some time to relax and enjoy herself? What fulfills that and the budget?"

Hmmm. Well she likes jewelry. But jewelry is expensive.

She likes chocolate, but those go pretty quick.

She likes clothes, but what size to buy? The size she is now post-pregnancy? No, that won't due because then she will think I will think she will be this size long enough to get some use out of the clothes. I certainly can't buy clothes in her old size because then she will think I am telling her she is too big and needs to get back to her BP size.

Shoes? No because her feet got bigger too, I think she said that, I may not have been listening.

Speaking of listening, did she tell me what she wanted? No, I would have listened to that. Wouldn't I? I could ask her now, but asking makes it look like I don't know her, or worse didn't listen when she told me what she wanted. Plus asking your wife two days before Christmas what she wants for Christmas is akin to saying, "I have given absolutely zero thought to any gift from you." (See above description for guys.)

So back to our criteria: Leslie, baby, something she can enjoy with a baby that latches onto her boob every three hours, can't move, and she only has brief spurts of time for relaxing. What does she like?

What does she like.....

Tetris! She likes Tetris! On our vacation to San Diego she played it in the car! On our trip to the East Coast she played it on the plane! Yes, she likes Tetris.

So what to do about Tetris? Hey, I have the Playstation II set up in the family room. I can get her a Tetris game! It's a bit of a pain because the wires on the paddles don't reach the couch, but I can rearrange the family room. She can play Tetris while feeding Blaire! Genius!

Hey! What is THIS! Sony Playstation two Wireless Paddles!!! Fantastic! No more wires! Oh this is perfect Leslie can sit on the couch nursing Blaire, or just resting with her, and play Tetris on the Sony Playstation II with cordless controls! She'll love it! Double-double-double Genius!

As Leslie was opening her incredibly thoughtful present, I thought to myself, "This is truly an unforgettable gift."

Please feel free to comment below on any truly unforgettable gifts you have given.

Friday, December 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 Saturday December 12, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

In Copenhagen, Obama and other leaders agreed to set a target of temperature increase of two degrees Celsius; has anyone told God?

Do you think it is funny when someone stumbles over the word “eloquent?”

Can you give Congress a synonym for “back home projects?”

Would you rather have opportunity or assistance?

If you go to a website to “unsubscribe” are you put on someone else’s list?

If there were to be a statue made of you what age would you want it to be and what would you be doing?

Kid #2 Question: Do you think sunsets are romantic?

Have you ever noticed how many things on your to-do list or your email in-box take care of themselves while you are attending to other matters?

Do you ever use your cell phone as a flashlight?


Crushed or cubed?

Kid Question #1: What is your favorite board game?

Does anyone really want to relinquish control of our economy to a group that gives a standing ovation to Hugo Chavez and whose primary supporters demonstrate under communist and socialist banners?

Have you ever had a white Christmas?

How do you feel about the future of our country’s health being decided by one man who is forcing his colleagues to vote on a bill no one except him has seen as he buys his votes and changes his bill?

Worst Christmas present you ever got? (Look for Monday’s post where I will detail worst one I gave…)

Kids school had pajama day today, if your work had pajama day what would you be wearing?

Are you like me and surprised no woman has come forward yet with a Tiger-child?

What makes a “great city?”

How many Mths in the Nth degree?

What is the one thing you want for Christmas this year that you haven’t told anyone?

Who else can get away with a hundred billion for homeless and call it “stimulus”?

What would you term an “Enterprise Zone” filled with vacant store fronts?

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, December 16, 2009

Psssst....It's Too Big!

There is much furor among left wing Democrats and the far left over Independent Senator Joe Lieberman standing in the way of the Senate passing the 2,000 page health care bill from Harry Reid. From the beginning Lieberman has said he will oppose any bill that expands MediCare or has a government insurance option. Evidently when Reid sent his minions to write his bill he either did not listen to Lieberman, figured Lieberman would not be able to discern the provisions in 2000 pages of legal gobbly-gook, or did not believe he would stand firm on his position. Playing political poker Reid included the provisions for both expanding MediCare and a public option; calculating Lieberman would not want to tick off Democrats and be the lone vote in the way for passing historic legislation.

Desperately needing Lieberman's vote to reach the magic number of 60 needed to end debate and get a floor vote on his bill, Reid publicly has made no statements regarding Lieberman and his position. Instead Reid has focused his ire on Republicans for blocking the legislation--comparing the Republican position to that held by Democrats in the 1800's who blocked anti-slavery legislation and 1950's Democrats who blocked Civil Rights legislation.

Reid has shown he is not the brightest person in the Senate. Lieberman owes nothing to him nor the Democrats. Reid forgets that in 2006 Democrats ran a candidate against Lieberman in the primary election for his Senate seat and defeated Lieberman. Immediately following the election Lieberman announced he would run as an Independent. Reid quickly announced that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee supported and endorsed Lieberman's opponent, Ned Lamont. The campaign was quite heated and vitriolic with Lamont and the Democrats tying Lieberman to President Bush in every speech, every campaign piece, every interview. For the DSCC and Lamont's campaign it was as if the Evil Axis crafting war on the American people was Bush-Cheney-Rove-Lieberman.

Lieberman won quite handily, beating Lamont and the GOP candidate combined. The people of Connecticut spoke, "We like Joe more than we like Harry." Back on Capitol Hill Lieberman received a chilly reception and many Democrats wanted Reid to yank his seniority on committees and any leadership positions he held. When 2008 came around and Democrats held 59 seats in the Senate plus Lieberman who has continued to caucus with Democrats everyone quickly realized that unless a Republican or two jump the aisle, Lieberman is critical to all Senate votes. He therefore needs to be listened to, everyone understands this but the Majority Leader, Harry Reid.

Hence where we find ourselves this morning. In order to get Lieberman's vote Reid needs to scrap, at minimum, the government insurance option and expansion of MediCare. In doing so he upsets the far left Senators and can lose more votes. While that fight goes on the next ones to rear their heads are the abortion provisions and costs. Some Democrats will not support a bill that provides any federal funds to pay for abortions or loosens regulations on abortions, other Democrats say they will not support any bill that does not include abortion assistance nor tightens regulations. Some Democrats actually care what the cost of this legislation is to Americans today and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that.

And on and on the battles within the party continue on this massive legislation. All the while trying to cobble together the 60 votes he needs from within his own caucus, Reid is blaming Republicans for blocking the legislation--such a bold false statement as to be comical. Members of Reid's caucus are balking at the cost, balking at specific provisions and balking at the lack of information, but because the Republican members of the Senate have stayed united thus far in opposition to such a massive bill and its costs it is their fault Reid cannot deliver a bill to President Obama.

This bill is a disaster as written and a disaster if passed. Politically it is guaranteed to cost many Democrats their seats in the 2010 elections, and again in 2012 and more in 2014 when the laws begin to take effect. Because it aims not to reform the health care system in our country but rather to build a brand new one at enormous costs it is destined to end many political careers. Ignoring that almost 60% of Americans oppose the bill, and the more than 45% who strongly oppose it, Reid and the majority of Senate Democrats continue blindly down the path of trying to pass a bill that has not yet been fully released and disclosed and not yet had a full and accurate Congressional Budget Office cost analysis.

From the beginning I have said this bill and effort by Democrats is too big to succeed. Politically the Democrats and the Obama Administration would be better off taking smaller steps in reforming health care. Put forth a legislative time line that goes beyond 2010 that would entice voters to re-elect their Senators and Representatives so they can maintain their majorities. Instead of a legislative mantra and mandate from the White House of "just pass something" it should be "one-step at a time."

Tackle first the biggest external cost to health care delivery: tort reform. Instead of going against the people who voted for you, go against the trial lawyers who contribute to your campaigns. Simple tort reform eliminates billions of dollars in defensive diagnosis, defensive tests and defensive procedures.

Then tackle insurance costs. Allow insurers to compete nationally. Democrats love to tout how the marketplace needs competition but they will not allow insurance companies to compete. The competition is restricted by federal and state laws.

Once these two low hanging fruit have been knocked down then tackle fraud and abuse in MediCare and MediCaid/Cal. Obama has admitted it costs Americans billions and billions of dollars (most estimates are 10% of the total program budgets). So do something about it separate from massive legislation. Instead of paying for the fraud and abuse by lowering payments to health care providers, save the money being wasted and stolen by cracking down on it.

If Obama were to lead a concerted, continuing and successful effort to pass health care reform piece, by piece, by piece, he would fulfill the promise so many put in him in November 2008. He would show leadership, foresight, vision and success. Re-election in 2012 almost guaranteed and poll numbers slipping into the low 40's turning into high 50's or low 60's. Instead he sits on the sidelines until the last minute when it appears his pre-written legacy may need some editing and admonishes, scolds and tries to frighten Legislators to quickly pass a bill. Time being more important than substance or consequence.

Joe Lieberman is taking considerable heat from Democrats and liberals for maintaining his stand, on the other side he is being applauded for sticking by his word--that he gave Reid very early on in this debate. Hopefully his stance and the resulting altering of Reid's bill will derail this current health care reform effort and we can start again. But smaller and in targeted detail that does not obfuscate the provisions nor costs from the American people.

In the meantime why all the heat on Joe for standing by his position and no heat on the other 59 Senators who caved into his position and abandoned theirs?

Monday, December 14, 2009

TARP Funds Coming Back

Big news this morning on the financial front is that Citi has finished negotiations with the Treasury and has a plan put together to repay $20 billion in funds received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). As you may recall TARP was the initial government reaction to the current economic cycle. Put together in October 2008 by the Bush Administration, Treasury Department and Congress it allocated $700 billion to assist troubled financial institutions to prevent their collapse.

TARP was (and is) the centerpiece of discontent for many Americans who feel that the government should have just let troubled banks fail. One can imagine the size and depth of the ensuing recession had that occurred. More criticism was heaped on TARP when the Obama Administration used some of the TARP funds to prop up General Motors and Chrysler.

Through TARP the Federal government was able to add restrictions to recipients policies and procedures, mandate capital requirements and restrict lending practices. In several cases the Treasury, on behalf of the American people, became shareholders in banks receiving funds on a preferred stock basis. The largest of these stock holdings became Citi where the U.S. Government retained stock worth 31% ownership in the bank.

Last week, within hours after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testified on TARP before a House Committee last week, Bank of America announced it has repaid $45 billion of TARP funds it received and has repurchased all preferred stock owned by the government. This morning's announcement that Citi has reached an agreement to repay its $20 billion in funds and repurchase government's holdings also stated that through the TARP period Citi paid $3.1 billion to the government in dividends and interest. By June Citi will have repurchased all preferred shares held by the Federal Government.

Of the big banks and firms that received TARP funds Wells Fargo is left with no announcement of a plan to repay the $25 billion received. Since Wells did not visit the TARP well twice it has been operating without many of the restrictions, including compensation limits, imposed on other institutions, as such it may not be in as big of a hurry to shove $25 billion in capital out the door.

When enacted TARP had a price tag of $700 billion. To date Secretary Geithner indicates $550 billion of the funds have been allocated and that by December 2010 $175 billion will have been repaid. Somehow through these numbers, $550 billion spent and $175 billion repaid, Geithner told Congress that the cost to the taxpayer has been recalculated from $341 billion to $140 billion. Where the gap of $135 billion gets made up ($550B spent $175B collected leaves $375B uncollected) I don't know.

The biggest question for me on this phase of TARP, repayment, is where will the repaid funds go? With Citi's announcement coming on the heels of Congress slamming through a $1.1 Trillion spending bill this weekend and Obama and Congressional Democrats talking about another $200-500 billion in "stimulus-but-don't-call-it-stimulus" funding and the on going multi-Trillion dollar debate on health care restructuring, I am a little skeptical the repaid TARP funds will be used to pay down debt or go back in the general fund.

While not perfect, thus far it appears the TARP investment in several of America's major financial institutions was a good bet. While GM and AIG are still out there to remind us that no investment is without risk, Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo and Chase have shown the infusion of funds kept them open and able to acquire weaker, troubled institutions, saving taxpayers, investors and depositors hundreds of billions, possibly trillions. They are not out of the woods yet however and face significant future risks and challenges, not the least of which will be whatever final legislation comes out of Congress on financial regulations and restrictions. This Congress and Administration has so far shown the ability to be over-reactive to issues and problems restricting markets and future growth, if this happens with banking credit will tighten further. Also on the horizon is the commerical paper on the banks' books, while the focus the past few years have been on residential foreclosures the other shoe is commerical loans that are coming due or facing major rate adjustments through their notes.

Hopefully the health of our lending institutions has recouped enough to withstand coming challenges and restore America's faith in the institutions that hold and protect their hard earned money.

Friday, December 11, 2009

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 Saturday December 5, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Now that we have enough for every month, will there be a Tiger’s Girls Calendar?

What is the population of the United States?

Why is President Obama so slow to inflict pain on foreign terrorists but so quick to want to inflict it on businesses and taxpayers?

Role models or lessons in morals and ethics?

(For SoCals) Have you noticed how many days a years we can see the mountains over the past several years, even in the summer?

Senate Health Care Plan is guaranteed to increase California State expenses by several billion dollars due to pushing more people into MediCal coverage, think the students and faculty protesting cuts to UC and CSU budgets know, care or understand the linkage?

Egg nog or spiced hot cider?

Why don’t the elitists meeting in Copenhagen who are going to chastise me and all of America and demand we use squiggly light bulbs that are extreme hazardous, not buy plasma televisions, drive French made Deux Chevaux, smoke Gallois, and carpool, why don’t they plane-pool and limo-pool for the conference?

Best sandwich in Long Beach area?

Newpapers and the AP report that Democrats are trying to “stall” or “block” health care reform despite having a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and overwhelming majority in the House, is there any wonder their subscribers are dropping like Obama’s favorables?

If you were given the opportunity to name an SUV what would you name it?

Didn’t global temperatures have to rise to end the first Ice Age?

What intellectually stimulating game(s) do you like to play?

What would happen if our state and federal legislatures had to operate under the regulations they put on businesses?

Hard yolk or soft?

What is your biggest computer frustration?

Is there a bigger ass in American politics than Harry Reid?

How do they know what the exact temperatures were during the Paleolithic Age?

Do you think federal money should be used to fund abortions?

Do you play an instrument?

What was the cost to the city to change email addresses from to What is the cost to everyone else who has to take the time and resources to make the change from an underscore to a dot?

Does this have a Soviet or Stalinesque ring to it: “"Proposals to Accelerate Job Growth and Lay the Foundation for Robust Economic Growth." ?

How long can a country be labeled “Developing” before it should be labeled “Failing”?

Cocoa or hot chocolate?

Is the gathering in Copenhagen Global Warmists or Socialists?

Who knew the nerdy science guys are conformists aggressively pursuing income and glory at the expense of independent research and exploration?

Did you see that Congress passed a spending bill that includes a $1.6 Billion subsidy to Amtrack?

Why do dry cleaners put men’s and women’s clothes in the same plastic bag?

Who will win the Heisman Trophy?

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, December 9, 2009


What are the ethics of hoping someone has misbehaved so you can back-up your "gotcha" philosophy?

Is it ethical to create misconceptions for other people about someones behavior?

How ethical is it to destroy someone else's personal relationship?

Can people be trained to be ethical or are ethics learned as they are experienced?

If someone must attend "ethics training," whose ethics are they learning and how does he know the trainer is ethical?

If someone does something which you disagree with does that make them unethical, even that act is legal?

Whose ethics are more important, yours, mine, society's, whose?

Is it ethical to presume someone is misbehaving merely because they are in personal contact with someone you mistrust?

I love conversations about ethics. For the past three or four years I have had the honor of facilitating a discussion on how to define ethics for Leadership Long Beach's incoming class of participants. When a discussion on how to define ethics is started it quickly becomes apparent that ethics, like art, is hard to describe; we know it when we experience it. Or better yet in regards to ethics, we know it when we don't experience it.

The challenge with defining ethics, for me, boils down to "whose ethics?" Your personal ethics based upon your moral code, or my ethics based on my moral code? The ethics of your company or organization? While many like to purport a single standard of ethics, I challenge the assertion. A few simple questions shows that ethics are not universal. Is abortion ethical? Is the death penalty ethical? Is the confiscation of private property ethical? Is denying the homeless woman asking for food ethical? Is killing someone ethical? If they have broken into your home and endangering your children? Is something ethical just because it is legal?

Ethics, for me, are actions directed by morals that separate "good" from "bad." If we share the same morals then we probably share many of the same ethics. Companies and organizations have a culture that determines the ethics of that organization, typically based on the morals of the leadership and their values. As a society we have overlapping ethics, picture everyone walking around with the "ethics circle" surrounding them, some circles perfectly overlap and some are never touched--almost as if within society they have no circle. From the shared morals and ethics of the majority we derive our laws. Being a Republic our laws then govern us. Shared ethics codify in law.

Part of my ethics is understanding they are mine and may not conform to yours and vice versa. Therefore it is probable there are times when you consider me unethical, or I consider you the same. As long as neither of us is breaking the law and can disagree on what is ethical we can peacefully coexist. When you begin to feel that your ethics are more important than mine, that your moral compass is superior to mine, that I am being unlawful, immoral and unethical, in a situation where I feel I am not, when that happens we have a problem.

I am not a big fan of Conspiracists (don't look it up, I just typed it). Those who think every move made by someone in leadership or power is either unethical or illegal and done merely for self-advancement or monetary gain. You know the ones I am talking about, an elected official sneezes in their presence and they accuse them of trying to give them H1N1 to silence their criticism. The ones who find someone they dislike and then they create dislike and mistrust within the community. Using broad brushes they paint anyone who comes into contact with that person because to them he is unethical and always dealing in unethical matters. Conspiracists enroll others behind their attacks and accusations with the sole goal of discrediting other people's character and motives, essentially working to destroy careers. All under their banner of "ethics." Their perception of right and wrong. Because someone disagrees with them or wants to pursue an opportunity they do not like Conspiracists become personal in their attacks, move the discussion away from the opportunity or issue and instead try to make it a discussion on character. Conspiracists tend to be narcissistic and holier than thou, and me.

In the process they damage a community, create divides, breed contempt and facilitate mistrust. When they have accomplished this they smile and say, "look at what I have done, I have won."

For those not in the Long Beach area such a construction of false information and false accusations of unethical behavior is gripping our City Hall. Our City Council is immersed in discussions and debate and details to determine how to control individuals ability to speak with members of our government. A howl has arisen in our community demanding that anyone who leads a company, wants to create opportunities in our community for jobs and development, be limited in how and when and where they can present their ideas and opportunities to city officials. Our city is on the verge of codifying mistrust and declaring no one behaves "ethically" on their own, essentially saying the city is in the habit of hiring and electing unethical individuals whom we should mistrust.

This is all as a result of an over-reaction to a trip taken by two lifelong friends and their families. Two men who grew up together, whose wives and children are friends, had a weekend get-away with their wives as friends are apt to do. One friend is a consultant and represents a myriad of businesses and organizations who have businesses, or wish to have businesses, in the City of Long Beach. One friend works for the City of Long Beach and reviews and analyzes new projects and developments for the City Manager and Council. The families stayed at a hotel owned by one of the consultant's clients and at check out, without the city employee's knowledge or consent, issued a discount. We know this because upon returning to Long Beach and learning of the discount our ethical city employee repaid the discount and disclosed it to his bosses.

His ethics empowered him to action to do what was right. Now he is under scrutiny and an aura of mistrust and deceit is being built around him by the Conspiracists for they have long ago put his friend the consultant on their radar as someone to attack personally and professionally. By doing the right thing, by behaving ethically, our stalwart, competent and professional city employee has been tarnished.

Is it ethical to attack someone for doing what is right? Or would it be ethical to say, "this is what we expect of all of our employees, when they find out something happened that is not right to expose it, accept it and correct it?"

By their actions the Conspiracists have created an environment where future mistakes that are discovered may be covered up instead of exposed for fear of personal attacks and possible damage to their careers. By attacking two men who are life long friends for being friends the Conspiracists have made our city a bit more unfriendly to businesses, have created a bit more separation between City Hall and city residents and businesses, have created a bit more "Us" versus "Them" in our community. How is that for ethical behavior?

Ethics, I know them when I experience them, I know them more when I don't. Craig Beck is a good man who does good things for our city. Mike Murchison is a good man who does good things for our city. Both have good morals, good values and good ethics. Both work hard to improve our city and community. Neither deserves the treatment they are getting from the Conspiracists, who are getting too much press and exposure.

I hope there friendship continues for many, many years and it includes more trips together enjoying each others company and families. It isn't ethical to turn our backs on our friends when they have done nothing wrong.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Desire Named Street Car

Build and you will use it seems to be the theory behind Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal's new pet project: streetcars criss-crossing Long Beach. Or perhaps it is her turn to support something because the City Council wasted money, yet again, on a consultant and money spent needs defense.

It seems a few years ago the Long Beach City Council paid $69,000 to a consultant to look into the feasibility of putting street cars into Long Beach. Naturally the feasibility is great, otherwise the $69,000 would have been a waste. We'll just widen a street here, take out parking there, lay track at $25 million per mile, and once built the streetcars will be magical. Businesses will spring up along the tracks, Southern Californians will give up their cars and all of downtown's retail woes will be solved.

When it comes to the pro-streetcar crowd they love to quote development in other cities where streetcar lines have been added, and say things like, "streetcars aren't about transportation they are about development." That's good because like the data being released by the White House on jobs created by the Stimulus Package the numbers released by cities on the development resulting from streetcar lines is just as cooked. Take Portland for instance, the beacon of light for those who want to add a streetcar line to a city near you, or around you if you live in Long Beach. Portland boasts of $2.8 billion in new development because of its streetcar lines being put in; and politicians like Lowenthal are quit to quote the number. Has she bothered to Google the figures? Virtually every new development that has occurred within three blocks of the street car line are tossed into the $2.8 billion dollar number. Including hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Portland State Univeristy, millions spent on parking garages, new office buildings that were in planning stages before the streetcars went in, and on and on.

Also not mentioned are the subsidies spent by Portland, over $1 billion and counting, to sustain the streetcars and other light rail, encourage development and try to sustain the projects. But money is not the problem for Long Beach. Lowenthal says it won't cost Long Beach residents anything from the General Fund, we'll just use Federal dollars--it's not as if we pay Federal taxes so it must be OPM, Other-People's-Money. Not surprising for liberal politicians to consider Federal money "free money" to the recipients, Lowenthal is ready for the Democratic Caucus in Congress. If hundreds of millions of dollars are available to build a street car why is that same money not available to improve our current transportation system? Why not use those funds to improve existing corridors and bus routes? Why not let the Federal government keep the money, lower our taxes and extend credits to small businesses? Because it's not pretty and red and has a bell that goes clang-clang as it creeps down the street.

The purpose of the streetcars is development. Development of downtown Long Beach which has seen hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it behalf over the years, from shiny new upscale condo towers, to funky new lights, to redevelopment funds for businesses, to The Pike and Aquarium. And still Pine, Long Beach Boulevard, Atlantic, Broadway, etc have vacant store fronts and businesses that open and close before their first anniversary. Streetcars are the latest "thing" that will finally get a consistent and significant amount of spending by consumers downtown, supposedly. Streetcar development is dependent on high density housing. Downtown Long Beach has plenty of high density housing, unfortunately most of it in the immediate surrounding areas is high density use in low density buildings.

Until our politicians look at the reality and quit using poli-speech to describe problems the problems will never be addressed. Downtown retail is not a failure because there is no way for people from other parts of the city or region to get there--the 710 terminates downtown, several bus lines from Bixby Knolls to Belmont Shore terminate there, a bridge from the Harbor Freeway and San Pedro terminates there, the Blue Line terminates there, the Passport was created for there. Downtown retail is a failure because it is surrounded by low cost, overcrowded, gang infested housing and neighborhoods. While an upscale residential base has been increasing downtown, it is not enough to sustain any consistent retail development. In the meantime within half to three quarters of a mile of Broadway and Pine are over thousands of low income housing units that are overcrowded and surrounding downtown. A hundred thousand people, probably more, who don't shop downtown, don't eat downtown and cost downtown, and the rest of the city, millions in public safety, health and other services.

City Hall keeps approving and looking to add low cost housing to Long Beach, most of it around the downtown area, then on the next agenda item spend more money on more studies to try to find a way to get retail development downtown to take hold and succeed. Lowenthal's desire for streetcars is just the latest idea to syphon more funds in the future from the General Fund to sink into the downtown retail black hole--and along the way encourage high density development.

Maybe it is time for City Hall and council members from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th to take a look north of the 405 for a change. Take a look at Bixby Knolls and the redevelopment and re-invigoration that has been occurring along Atlantic Avenue. New businesses opening and while struggling are succeeding, despite the economic downturn. Vacant buildings being creatively used for the community. Clean streets. Building owners slowly renovating their facades and interiors. A very vibrant relationship between local businesses and surrounding communities. All without a streetcar and very little investment from the City, especially when compared to the investments made downtown and in other parts of the city. But it was all done with one common factor, Blair Cohn who is the leader of the Bixby Knolls Business Association. He was determined to forge a positive relationship between local businesses and local residents, and it is working. Where is that leadership downtown?

Instead of spending another $500,000 plus next year to continue the study of streetcar feasibility, and another $1 million plus the year after that to continue the process, it would instead behoove Lowenthal and her constituents to promote the use of current public transportation, including the Passport bus line that was created specifically for what Lowenthal wants the streetcars to achieve: bring people downtown. If you want downtown retail to succeed and people from Bixby Knolls, Belmont Heights, El Dorado Park Estates, Los Altos to go downtown and spend money, give them something to go for besides a few restaurants and a 7/11.

In the meantime, let's cut our spending losses on the streetcar idea before the city gets sucked into a spending hole for the future. It we don't Long Beach will have a streetcar nicknamed quagmire.

Friday, December 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 Saturday November 28, 2009 here are some questions I have had:

Do you know what is on the back of pennies minted in 2009?

Would you rather have “first” or “best”?

What happens when oil goes back over $100 a barrel and gas over $4.00 a gallon at the pump? Will we get serious about domestic production then?

Whipped cream or ice cream?

Do you ever use your laptop on your lap?

Who is the most annoying person on television that you still watch?

Are the people reporting on the stimulus funds “running out” the same ones who covered the passage of the bill in February?

Are reporters stupid or do we just not get it?

What is “it” anyway?

Who or what inspired you this week?

Do you put on your left shoe or your right shoe first?

Do you prefer sunrises or sunsets?

Oldest piece of clothing you still wear regularly?

Dictator for a day how do you solve this problem: One mother on government assistance with multiple children by multiple fathers?

Should couples with no children pay lower taxes?


How many times a week is “Law and Order” on?

With today’s technology allowing almost infinite storage capabilities, why would scientists destroy and/or discard any raw data?

When you leave your phone number for someone on a voice mail do you say it slowly and repeat it at least once? If not why not?

How can you have a “jobs summit” and not invite the Chamber of Commerce?

Is politics about defending whistleblowers who blow the whistle on your enemies and asking prosecution of those who blow the whistle on your allies?

If the Executive Branch of government, at any level, is disorganized how is the rest of the structure?

Why would you invite labor leaders to a “jobs summit”, isn’t their purpose to limit the number of jobs in a given field or industry to those who are in a union?

Do you brush your teeth before or after you shower?

Senior year in high school; what song just popped in your head?

“And if there are things that we're doing here in Washington that are inhibiting you (from creating jobs/increasing employment.DCS), then we want to know about it”. Really? You really want to know about what you’re doing to inhibit job and economic growth?

Window or aisle?

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, December 2, 2009

The Exit Strategy Myth

"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory." Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Congress December 8, 1941.

What if that statement said that the American people, in their righteous might, will depose a foreign leader and then leave right away? Or that the American people will enter into this fray, this war, but only for say one year, or maybe two?

"Exit Strategy" has become a cliche and policy talk that has moved from the MBA classrooms of Wharton and Kellogg to the committee rooms of Congress to the editorial rooms of the New York Times and Washington Post. Our nation is looked to be the International Police and Bank, if there is a trouble spot the United Nations and other nations look to the United States to supply relief, be it troops, food or funds. But not too much and not too long, they want our money but not our values of liberty, freedom and democracy. As such, to keep them happy we must now always have an Exit Strategy before we begin any international effort. This mentality has emasculated the power of the United States and increased the danger to American troops serving on foreign soil.

I am not sure if the Exit Strategy mentality started in Korea or Vietnam. Certainly in the first American and allied troops pushed to win gaining ground until China, fearing a North Korea defeat, entered the war supplying North Korea. Eventually a truce was reached, the famous 38th Parallel becoming the dividing line between the Koreas. The war resulted in returning to the status quo before the United States, the United Nations and China entered the conflict with two Koreas un-peacefully coexisting. In Vietnam as American involvement escalated to defend South Vietnam and prevent the Chinese backed North Vietnamese from overthrowing the South Vietnamese government, and then extend control and influence into neighboring countries, opposition grew in the United States. As a youngster I watched the evening news at dinner with the news clips and the body counts telling the American people how we were doing. Much later I learned that the American military fought the war with its hands tied by Congress and Washington not committed to winning the war, but rather committed to how to get out of the war. As a result disaster occurred with American troops withdrawing, the Communist Vietcong easily over taking the country and the beginning of human atrocities in Vietnam and Cambodia.

When an enemy knows when you are leaving they have no reason to make you stay. When success is defined by when you leave a conflict rather than when your opponent leaves the conflict, or is removed from it, then success becomes defined by how you fail. Thus the Exit Strategy philosophy is ultimately a strategy of controlled failure.

President Bush is criticized for not having an "Exit Strategy" before the invasion of Iraq. What exactly would that have been: we overthrow Saddam Hussein and we leave? We overthrow Saddam Hussein and we arrest some of his guys and we leave? How does anyone know how a war will go when it starts? How can you know how to end a war without total victory, i.e. have an Exit Strategy?

Bush's mistake, in my humble non-military opinion--but hey if members of Congress and the New York Times editorial board can espouse theirs I can espouse mine--was not committing enough early enough. Bush seemed to understand the difficulty the war would create at home and wanted to mitigate some of that. Sure he had almost unanimous backing by Congress, but rightfully knew that would probably be fleeting once politics got back to normal. Going into Iraq the strategists did not consider the tremendous number of foreign fighters that would enter the country to reign terror on the population and target American troops. In retrospect, always the best way to fight and critique a war, U.S. and Allied troops should have been, and I feel still should be, massed on the borders between Iraq and Syria and Iraq and Iran to prevent the flow of fighters and weapons. Once the country is more isolated then the clean up work and rebuilding can begin. Exit Strategy? Win, stabilize, then see what the geopolitics of the region dictate.

Now we have an Exit Strategy in Iraq, we give up and leave whether the nation is stable or not sometime in 2011, ahead of the 2012 elections--campaign promise kept. Exit strategy result? Vacuum created by exit of U.S. troops filled by terror groups from Syria and Iran who restart religious wars between Sunni and Shia; my guess is the importation of many chemical weapons taken out of the country while the U.N. dithered in 2001.

Apparently we now have an Exit Strategy for Afghanistan as well. Wait six months, increase the number of troops by some seemingly arbitrary number and then pull them all out twelve months later, ahead of the 2012 elections. Our enemies must be pleased with the time frame. They can go back to their day jobs for a year or so, wait for the vacuum created when U.S. troops leave and then re-enter Afghanistan and set up camp(s). Wipe out the progress made in protecting women and girls from barbaric treatment, wipe out gains in educating children, especially young girls, wipe out progress in building water and electric plants delivering services to greater portion of the populace. Wipe out the fledgling democracy taking foot.

In business having an Exit Strategy can be smart using goals, objectives, plans, benchmarks, strategy and implementation for a singular end, usually selling the company. Parenting should have a semi-Exit Strategy: ensure my children are properly educated, have strong morals and values, are able to commit and complete tasks and duties, are prepared to be productive members of society and contributors to their communities, are able to be self-sufficient.

Having an Exit Strategy before or during a war that is not total victory, or "absolute victory," is very much like having a pre-nuptial agreement. Yes I want this to work out but if it doesn't here is my exit strategy so we know how much it will cost us when we fail. Instill the thought of failure before the commitment and what will happen? How many marriages with pre-nuptial agreements last decades compared to those that last a few years?

American foreign policy power has been weakened considerably. Our enemies know we are unable to commit to the absolute victory declaration of Franklin Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They know that any conflict we enter will be done with great trepidation and criticism that will dictate our less than total commitment to victory but a complete commitment to when and how we will quit. Wait long enough and we will leave the fields of battle.

We are the greatest nation in human history. Do we have flaws? Certainly. But who else would be better at policing our globe? At recognizing evil and acting to free and liberate whole populations from that evil? Who else was able to defeat the totalitarianism of fascism and communism? What happened when we gave up the fights against dictators who commit atrocities and wholesale murder? What happens when our official foreign policy philosophy is based on Exit Strategies rather than absolute victory?

It is my belief that everyone deserves to live under the natural Freedoms and Liberty given to us, everyone. I further believe that it is the Destiny of the United States to promote, protect and support those striving for Freedom and Liberty against evil and barbarous rule and dictators. Currently in the world there is an ideology based on religion that is committed to absolute victory. An absolute victory that requires every nation on earth become one. One nation ruled by religious leaders enforcing ancient laws, enforcing misogynistic policies allowing rape and murder of girls and women, stripping all Liberty and Freedom.

Our enemy is committed to Roosevelt's "absolute victory" while we are committed to Exit Strategies. Unfortunately our commitment to this philosophy also commits us to an Exit Strategy of Freedom and Liberty for all.