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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Plastic Bag Bans

At some later date I will explain my hyatus the last four plus months, in the mean time here is letter to the editor that was not printed today, Tuesday December 7, 2010. This evening the Long Beach City Council is scheduled to vote to ban plastic bags being given away at grocery stores and other merchants.

Here is a link to the Press-Telegram story where I got the figures they used that I rebut in my letter: Will Long Beach Ban Plastic Bags?

Dear Editor:

I question the veracity of some of the “facts” published in the P-T article on plastic bags. One “fact” was that plastic bags make up “25 percent of the county’s litter stream.” That would mean 25% of most trash trucks, trash cans, and dumpsters would be plastic bags. Simple visual observations tells us this is not true and an inflated number used by ban supporters. One “fact” is that Californians use 19 million plastic bags per year, and also that they generate 147,038 tons of waste per year. For these numbers to equate each plastic bag must weight fifteen and a half pounds. Apparently another set of inflated statistics. Finally, the “fact” that “Californians throw away 600 plastic bags per second” would mean over 2 million per hour, or almost 52 million per day. How can we throw away 52 million per day in California and use only 19 million? Especially if they weigh over fifteen pounds apiece?

Once again elected officials in California take inflated statistics from alleged experts to create an intrusive law (see AB 32). Those of us who act responsibly, re-use and recycle our plastic bags are made to pay for those who feel litter is fine and part of their neighborhoods and throw their plastic bags and other trash in the streets, alleys and sidewalks. Congratulations to the grocers in Signal Hill, Lakewood, Seal Beach and other border cities for the increased business they will do when Long Beach City Council bans the fifteen pound plastic bags.

Dennis C. Smith
Long Beach, CA

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gimme Your Money

On Monday I wrote about the City of Long Beach and the perpetual deficit due primarily to the inability, or rather the unwillingness, of the City Council to address the basic issues which plague the balance sheets and income statements. Deficits exist because of a gap between revenue and expenses, with the latter greater than the former. One way to solve deficits is to increase revenue rather than cut expenses, this is the route most elected officials prefer to take in our region and state.

Revenue growth of course is generally meant to mean tax increases but taxpayers don't like to read about tax increases but feel good about increasing revenues. Which explains a lot of the behavior of the electorate in the ballot box.

Revenues need not always need to be from direct taxes, but can also come from other entities that receive taxes. What the Long Beach City Council has been doing the last few years to prevent having to make the necessary decisions to solve the budget deficits is essentially engineer their own bailouts, or like street thugs at a mugging demanding "Gimme your money."

The Port of Long Beach is a huge economic engine. Over the decades it has consistently been ranked as the busiest or second busiest port in the world. Sitting side-by-side with the Port of Los Angeles, the harbor area sees tons and tons of cargo loaded and off loaded every day. Almost anything you see stamped "Made In China" comes through one of these two ports. With each car, radio, shirt or laptop comes a few pennies in revenue for the ports.

State laws dictate how the Port can spend its revenues and profits, often times the City of Long Beach needing some financial assistance will take a look at the laws on the books, see that the requested expenditure is a valid and request funds from the Port of Long Beach. And the Port of Long Beach, governed by commissioners appointed by the Mayor, accedes to the request. Essentially the Port of Long Beach is the City of Long Beach's rich uncle who has a hard time saying "No" to his favorite niece--no matter how much trouble she has gotten herself into.

The commissioners have done an excellent job running and managing the Port. Properly planning for expansion and growth, putting aside reserves for future projects, such as a new bridge between Long Beach and San Pedro. The Port nonetheless seems to have a special reserve account for the recalcitrant niece who cannot control her spending or properly budget for her future.

The City of Long Beach has considerable portions of the city that are in enterprise zones and business districts. Revenues (taxes) are collected and put under control of the Redevelopment Agency for use to, oddly enough, redevelop blighted areas of the city. The RDA has different zones, downtown, central and north. The problem from many citizens viewpoint is that for decades the RDA seemed to exist solely to dump money in the the downtown project area at the expense of the redevelopment in the rest of the city. Particularly frustrated over the years has been those who live north of the San Diego Freeway, those in the North PAC.

Raided over the years to make up funding shortfalls in downtown and central area projects, now the RDA is using funds designated to redevelop North Long Beach to bailout the city on debt payments for the Aquarium of the Pacific. For the second year in a row. For those readers not familiar with the Long Beach and the Aquarium of the Pacific it is not located in the North PAC.

Year after year, seemingly month after month, the City of Long Beach is asking for the wallets of the Port of Long Beach or the Redevelopment Agency for bailouts. Time after time, request after request the Port and RDA hand over their wallets.

Our city government is being enabled by the Port and RDA to make poor budget decisions and rewarded for not properly planning, and sticking to the plans they make. Elected and appointed officials behave like spoiled trust fund kids who know their mistakes or poor decisions will always be covered by the two entities. Because of term limits none of the council members have to live long term with their poor decisions and pushing any difficult budget decisions into the future.

Now we have an even richer uncle providing even greater bailouts that relieve the city from one of its basic duties: maintenance of infrastructure. All around town we have had torn up roads and big signs saying we are restricted to one lane and sitting in stalled traffic because our route is being repaved thanks to the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act of 2009, i.e. "The Stimulus." Like the Port providing funds so we can keep lifeguards or the North PAC having funds robbed to keep the fishtank open, the Feds are paving our roads for us. Thanks to the kind people of Tulsa and Pierre our city government can cross that expense off the list and use the funds for more salaries and benefits elsewhere.

Redevelopment funds are sorely needed in North Long Beach. Taking funds from the North PAC to support the Aquarium, whose tourist dollars only help downtown businesses, is unjust to the people of North Long Beach and the taxpayers who pay into the RDA coffers. North Long Beach is grimy, dirty, crime ridden, filled with many hard working people and many laze leaches on society. There is a lack of business and commerce, I don't think there is even a coffee shop in the Ninth District. There is no development because in years past the North PAC was raided to pay for projects elsewhere. And there will be no redevelopment in the near future because funds are now being raided to bailout the city on its debt obligations elsewhere.

The Port of Long Beach has proven fiscally responsible and a great economic partner for the city. Now the City Council and Mayor will push for passage of a ballot measure to change the City Charter to restructure how much money the city gets to take from the Port every year. Like most governments they feel they can better spend the money better than the person, or organization, that earned the money.

Like many large urban cities across the country Long Beach is failing economically. Not because of the downturn in the economy but because of the downturn in political courage and vision. Long Beach is fortunate to have wallets to rob, other cities not so fortunate. Until a majority on the City Council have the guts to stand up and make difficult decisions to slash expenses and programs while laying out the purpose and long term vision of fiscal responsibility our city will continue to flounder and look to others for bailouts.

Running for office means you are willing to make difficult decisions. Decisions that will not please some people, and may in fact bring some harm to some citizens in the short or long term. However the overall quality of life for the majority of residents and businesses should be critical and central to decision making. Not what is best for city employees, but what is best for the residents and businesses that are invested in the neighborhoods and business corridors that make a city what it is.

It is time for the City Council and Management of the City of Long Beach to quit depending on others to cover their fiscal and political cowardice. Make the hard decisions and put our city back on a healthy fiscal plan for our future.


Monday, August 2, 2010

City Budget Decisions: It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra, famous for his malaprops, infamously said "It's like deja vu all over again." That sums up perfectly the City of Long Beach budget process that is now underway. And probably the budget process of most cities across the state and many across the country. With just two changes, for the council members from the 7th and 9th, I could just repost the piece I wrote last September, "Dear City Council, Fix It" and once again follow up with "How To Crush Budgets: The Median Income Spiral" because nothing has really changed structurally or politically in Long Beach. To update for the current council from last year's district by district analysis I would say no real change in the 7th and a big change in labor's favor in the 9th. Not good news for residents looking for real shifts in fiscal policy at City Hall.

Last year I said that until the City Council addresses the pensions and benefits for public employees we can expect to read about the City of Long Beach facing another $20 million deficit next year. I was off by $1.5 million as the City must deal with an $18 million deficit. Despite the calls from 3rd District Councilman Gary DeLong last year there has been no movement to reign in the spiralling pension and benefit costs for the city. As a result next year at this time I will be writing about the City of Long Beach and its $20 million deficit.

Last year's budget was presented and passed with the hopes that the City could renegotiate with the various unions that represent almost all workers, from public safety through Parks & Rec. While there were some minor concessions made in negotiations earlier this year the golden eggs were not touched nor discussed. With no real change in the composite of the City Council and their dependence and favoritism to the public employees' unions we can expect no real change in the structural deficit our city faces due to growing pension and benefit contributions and payments.

While pay increases have been postponed under recent negotiations, at some point those postponements come due. As I wrote in "...The Median Income Spiral" when the pay raises are due to kick in the City will continue to use the formula of basing our employees' salaries on those in surrounding and like sized departments and populations. Ask the cities who have the City of Bell in their median income pool how that will go for them. Because of the formulas used to determine salaries and benefits, Long Beach continues to facing growing spending and deficits until the City Council directs the City Manager to re-open all city contracts and renegotiate them from top to bottom.

Meanwhile Mayor Foster and City Manager Pat West have presented their budget to Council and workshops and budget sessions have begun to debate where to slash spending to make up the $18.5 million gap. This past weekend the Press-Telegram published 43 budget questions for readers to answer with a simple "Yes" or "No" regarding budget cuts. (It is also on-line for those who wish to chime in: "How Would You Cut Long Beach Budget")

Thanks for asking but I would have answered anyway. As I have stated in the past the primary problem our country faces when it comes to governance is no vision and no over-riding philosophy of the purpose of government at each level. For Long Beach I believe the most basic purpose of the city government is to protect persons and property, to provide services that provide for the safety of the citizens, to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to support neighborhoods and business districts, to provide limited services that promote the general welfare of all citizens, such as libraries. According to my perceived purposed of city government the budget should focus on public safety, which includes not only police and fire but also life guards, park rangers and crossing guards; city inspectors for buildings, health and code enforcement; maintenance crews to repair city streets, sidewalks, sewers, water lines and public parks and buildings; public libraries, parks and recreation. Since our City has a Health Department which keeps us somewhat independent from the County it would also by a budget priority. Once those budgets are properly funded and secured if there is any funding left over then the City can consider temporarily funding other services and programs that have mushroomed over the year. Do we really need a Human Dignity Officer and staff? A Mobility Coordinator? A Sustainability Office? Do we need to spend millions of dollars on bike lanes? Do we really need both a Civil Service Department and a Human Resources Department? How many departments and personnel do we have that are feel-good departments that cost money that should be used elsewhere?

Unfortunately I have little faith in our current City Council to make the necessary cuts and give the necessary instruction to fundamentally change the budget of our city. The majority are beholden to public employees for their positions, current and future when they seek higher office, and that eliminates fundamental changes in contracts with city employee unions. The majority are of a particular ideology that the purpose of government is too provide seemingly infinite services to mostly poor residents rather than attracting business, economic development and new home owners to stabilize neighborhoods. They would rather perpetuate the pockets, growing, of poverty that attract more crime, more public service dependent residents and more poverty. Instead of developing a long term economic plan to provide for more private sector jobs the City Council has decided a major public works project requires a Project Labor Agreement to drive up costs against a deficit budget and restrict employment in an almost 20% unemployment community.

My expectation is that City Management will not be scaled back, union contracts will not be renegotiated, and we will face another $20 million or more deficit next year. And the year after. In 2012 we will have another election, this time for the even Districts, and the same general ideology and fiscal policy mentality will remain. And City residents will complain about what programs are being cut after essentially electing the same politicians cycle, after cycle, after cycle.

Visit the Press-Telegram site and cast your votes on what should be cut, but don't expect much in the way of results. Our City Management and Council don't have the stomach for them, results that is.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Risk & Leaping Through Windows

Sunday morning we sat in church with some thoughts on our minds about packing, logistics, and letting go. Reverend Peggy's sermon this morning was on our ability to fly freely, to allow Spirit to guide us to the heights we desire and can achieve. Boiled down to the street, it was about risk management and how we over manage risk that may not be existent but in our minds, or conversely how if we get trapped in risk management we would lead lives of paralysis.

As Peggy said, "Life and risk are inseparable." Getting out of bed in the morning invites risk from the moment we set feet on the floor until we curl them under the covers again that night. As part of my counseling for families purchasing homes I bring up "What if you are hit by a bus?" Crossing the street is a risk. Driving to work is a risk. Eating steak is a risk. Falling in love is a risk. Getting married. Having children. Buying a home. Taking a job. Casting a vote. Risk. Risk. Risk. Life and risk are truly inseparable and some of us are paralyzed by the amount of risk in living and others of us are completely carefree regarding the risks in life.

Risk has many meanings. Risk can be a gamble. Risk can be peril. Risk can be embarrassment. Risk can be hurt or harm, physical or emotional. Essentially risk is the opportunity for a less than intended result for an action or decision. While the intended result is good, a possible result is less than good, and depending on the odds and amount of risk the possible result could be fatal.

Risk is a tool that is used to leverage the general human condition to manage or avoid unnecessary risk that to sell products, ideas, and in many cases the past several years laws. Risk has become attendant to safety. Safety good, risk bad. As a result too many of our laws have become risk management to protect the masses from themselves and risky behavior or possible negative outcomes. Many of the risk management laws are sensible and create a lawful and orderly society, many others however stretch the power of the government into our daily lives and limit our freedoms and liberties. There are those who feel my position (against) legalizing marijuana is such a limitation, there are others who feel it is an appropriate restriction based on risk management. From child seats to disclosures in a real estate transaction, our lives are filled with laws to disclose or mitigate risk from bad decisions or accidents.

But try as we might we cannot legislate against risk. We cannot legislate against accidents nor stupidity. They exist and as a result individuals will end up on the negative side of a risky situation. Because of the existence of accidents, and stupidity, the majority are restricted more and more from taking risks, and have more and more of our freedoms and liberties restricted in the process.

Life and risk are inseparable. But it is the taking of risks that allow us to grow, to succeed and to create better lives for ourselves and our children. Bob Maxson past-president of Cal State Long Beach used to say, "When you pass an open window of opportunity you only have a short time to decide whether to jump through that window before it closes and the opportunity is gone." Not only that, if you do not jump soon enough someone else probably will.

Taking Maxson's windows of opportunity further, in my own experiences I have noticed that when we are open to change, risking our current comfort zones, change occurs. Too often in my twenty plus years of helping families purchase homes have I seen the dramatic amount of change that occurs in their lives when they make the decision to purchase a new home. Buying a home is a risk. It takes most of your savings, it will be the biggest debt of your life and consume the biggest part of your paycheck. You are changing your shelter, a primary need for your and your family.

Once an individual or couple opens to change in their life by purchasing a new home, deciding to accept the risks of homeownership, I have seen the other changes that occur: new and better jobs, engagements and marriages after years of dating, getting pregnant after years of trying.

In our lives we experience periods when we are open to change and windows of opportunity present themselves to us. After a period the windows close and disappear and it can be some time before we are once again open to change. Many people during these periods over-analyze the risks and other make no analysis at all, thus the range of results from those stuck in their jobs, relationships or living conditions that make them unhappy, and those who try wildly and fail due to improper risk consideration.

Success depends on us finding that balance between risk assessment, risk management and trust. Because ultimately trust is the deciding factor in taking a risk or not. Do we trust our information, do we trust whatever partners may be involved, most importantly do we trust ourselves?

As we sat in church on Sunday listening to Peggy talking about mother eagles slowing creating an uncomfortable nest for her eaglets and eventually pushing them off the edge of the nest and making them fly we thought of our girls who we would be sending to Minnesota the next day for two weeks of camp. The comments from other parents have been wide ranging, from "oh, how can you be away from them for that long?" to "what a great experience." Those who see peril and risk and try to protect their children as much as possible to those who understand our primary role as parents is to develop adults who make good decisions and can live independently.

We are not risk seekers, Leslie and I. But at the same time we know our kids face daily risks and accidents and sometimes we have to let them happen. They need to learn to fail as much as they need to learn to succeed. They need to learn how to make their own risk assessments so later in life when their windows of opportunity present themselves they will make the leaps necessary to improve themselves and their lives.

Children love to come to us and say "look what I did!" not "Look what you did for me!" Accomplishments are based on overcoming risk, even slight risks. Making the choice to be successful is risking failure. We need to teach our children how to take these risks. We need to accept that life and risk are inseparable and allow individuals to make choices, to make decisions, and to accept the consequences of their actions and decisions the risks they chose to take. Our society has increasingly moved those consequences from the individual to society as a whole, the blame for poor risk management and decisions from the individual to others. Too many are passing this philosophy and dependency onto their children, inhibiting their ability in the future to make decisions, grasp opportunities, leap through windows, limit their opportunities for success.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing...Security does not exist in nature," Peggy quotes us from Helen Keller. Imagining not being able to see, hear or speak one wonders how can life be experienced, and yet Keller did experience life to the extent she understood the relationship between risks, security, and life more than those without any of her disabilities.

In this troubled economy so many people have seen their job loss, or loss of their home, as an opportunity, a window to jump through. Starting a new business, being free to move to another region of the state or country for a new job or career, unburdening themselves from emotional anchors that have weighed them down from creatively soaring, these individuals have taken risks and are succeeding. Instead of shutting down and creating negative environments for themselves they have opened up to the changes available. They have taken risks, easier to take after losing what they thought was security.

Take a risk.

Jump through the open window of opportunity. Go to your personal Home Depot and buy that window yourself and open it.

Be open to changes in your life and match them with your vision for what you truly want to do and want to be. Balance risk analysis and risk management.

Most importantly trust yourself, your wisdom, your experience, your talents, your creativity, your judgment, your relationships and your faith. Jump and you can soar.

DCS 07282010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are Subsidies and Payment Transfers Stimulus?

It appears that after practically in third, from $120 billion to $34 billion, that a few Republican Senators will jump the aisle and pass a bill that will re-new extended unemployment benefits. The bill has been held up as Republicans have asked, "how are we going to pay for this?" With no budget in place, and not budget being presented nor debated in Congress, Republicans wanted to see some cuts in spending made elsewhere before passing the bill.

Using the politics of division that are so natural in Washington, Democrats, led by House Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, accused the Republicans of cold-heartedness, not caring about American families and blocking a bill that was "about jobs." Jobs? How is extending unemployment benefits about jobs?

Once again we see this Administration and Democrats confuse economics with social policy. While this Congress has passed three huge bills that have transformed our national debt and both the healthcare and financial industries, none of the bills have really done or been about jobs. Preaching the Keynesian religion, Democrats feel that the best way to stimulate a moribund economy, increase hiring in an economy and promote economic growth is through sweeping government regulation and spending.

The practice has never worked as a long term economic policy and as is being seen in our current economy is failing now. Jobs created to work for the federal, or state, or local, government, are not jobs upon which an economy is built nor sustained. As the number of people reliant upon tax dollars and government spending increases the burden for making those payments becomes focused more and more on a shrinking number of net tax payers instead of takers. Eventually this system collapses under it own weight. Unbridled public spending and borrowing cannot continue for prolonged periods of time without leading to insolvency, which leads to economic crisis and melt down.

Jobs that allow an economy to grow and sustain itself are created in the private sector. In America this mostly means within the small and medium size businesses that support local communities and larger businesses. Locally these businesses are hurting because of the lack of manufacturing businesses in California that support smaller subcontracting companies and suppliers. Through tax policy, environmental policy and costs to operate businesses have left the state and/or country to manufacture their products.

Nationally the uncertainty created by the 111th Congress and Obama Administrations have led companies to hang onto cash and not reinvest in their businesses. Having found out what was in it after it passed as promised by Pelosi, corporations are estimating their costs due to Obamacare in the billions of dollars. Bent on overtaking and controlling the banking system the financial reform bill puts tremendous powers in the hands of an appointed official, the Chair of the Federal Reserve, to dictate credit policies and asset ratios of banks. Businesses are holding onto cash because they are not able to get credit lines secured by receivables due to Fed auditors scrutiny of bank balance sheets and discouraging credit extensions they consider risky. Businesses are holding onto cash as they are uncertain if/when the Cap and Trade movement will gain ground in Congress between the mid-term elections and the end of this Congress. If passed Cap and Trade will increase taxes and costs for businesses.

Every piece of legislation this Administration and Congress has passed has increased to costs on businesses. Instead of loosening the cash and anxiety among business owners by extending the Bush tax cuts (which increased revenue for the Treasury every year from passage to 2007 as predicted by the Laffer Curve), stopping "comprehensive" reforms, and allowing the private sector to heal, the constant drumbeat to reform all of America at the expense of the private sector has killed economic growth.

Into this dying economy the Administration plunges ahead with more speeches for reform that is about "jobs" but in reality is about votes. Looking to use the immigration issue as another wedge to divide the country for political advantage, Obama knows that if he is able to naturalize many or most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in our country he has secured the votes of the Hispanic and Latino communities for the Democrats for decades. Somehow his language will make his quest for these votes about jobs, but we won't know until legislation is passed what it will mean.

Regarding the bill to re-new extended unemployment benefits, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said, "This bill is about jobs, and this bill is about compassion." I will grant that the money given in the form of unemployment benefits will trickle through the economy for food, rent, gas, but to say it is primarily about "jobs" is deceitful. Extending the payments is not about creating or saving jobs, it is about using the Federal Treasury without limit as a social welfare system.

We are a resourceful nation populated with so many who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the recession individuals across the country are creating their own businesses. I have spoken in the past several months with many small business owners who have started what I have termed "Recession Businesses." Each has said they took the opportunity of being laid off to start their own business so they would not be dependent on a single source of income for their future. Sure there is risk and they may not make it, but maybe they will. One owner of a small hot dog and hamburger shop has hired at least two or three workers, and has created business with his suppliers that did not exist before. No boss to give him a pink slip, not dependent on the government for survival, he represents many small business owners spring up in Long Beach and across the country.

It is my belief that 99 weeks of unemployment benefits is too many, it appears that my sentiment is shared by about half the country so it is a divisive issue that crosses party lines. My solution to the issue would be a multi-pronged series of actions.

First, on the benefits scale back the payments as the traditional 26 week benefit is passed. Lower the payments by 5% per month until the maximum of 99 weeks is reached.

Second, to pay for the deficit created by the benefits instead of recirculating repaid TARP money and profit into more government bailouts and takeovers, transfer the funds to cover the unemployment benefits.

Third, with some more of the funds left over make one-time cash payments to community colleges to jump start programs for re-training laid off workers, assisting small business owners and start ups.

Fourth, extend the Small Business Association lending program that is currently being phased out. Allow small and community banks to assist local businesses in loans to purchase equipment and obtain cash flow as they grow and secure their business. Instead of re-circulating TARP funds into government programs and jobs, use the funds as intended--to assist banks with their assets. Use the re-paid funds as funds for small and community banks to make small loans, $10-50,000 to small and medium size businesses.

Fifth, repeal or at least suspend Obamacare. This gets a guffaw from those who supported major healthcare reform, but was reforming our entire healthcare system for 10% of the populace when we have 10% unemployment a wise decision? Reduce the costs to employers and increase the chance they will hire and extra worker, or two or three.

Six, extend the Bush tax cuts. Facing increasing tax burdens to pay for increasing debt burdens at the state and national level, businesses, and small business owners, are holding cash to bridge the pending gap between revenue and expenses created by this hit to their bottom lines. Most businesses are Schedule C or S Corporations, meaning personal tax returns are in play. Reducing the tax burden allows business owners to expand their business.

America needs private businesses. It needs them to thrive to provide jobs and stability in local communities. Private businesses create tremendous velocity of money through payrolls, suppliers and tax revenues they generate. Since January 2009 Washington has passed legislation that has only hindered and hurt private businesses and economic growth.

Extend unemployment benefits? Congress and Obama need to extend private business, let them take care of getting rid of unemployment benefits with jobs.


Monday, July 19, 2010

You're Doing A Bad Job.....Here's My Vote

Last week's release of a Field Poll shows that 16% of Californians approve of the job our State Assembly and Senate are doing. Sixteen percent. Who are these people and why is the number so high? Despite several years now of structural deficits and cash shortages the fiscal policy of the majority has not changed: expand government, protect state employees at all costs to taxpayers, raise taxes.

In late June both Gallup and Rasmussen released polls gauging the American confidence in Congress. According to Rasmussen only 12% of those polled felt Congress is doing either an "excellent" or "good" job. Gallup's numbers reflect this by asking merely if respondents "approve" of how our Washington legislatures are doing. Twenty percent said they approve. Approve of passing the $800 billion stimulus bill, approve of passing Obamacare without reading it or knowing what we are now finding out was in it, approve of passing the massive financial reform bill that will stifle economic growth and job creation as small businesses are burdened with costs and taxes.

So how will voters react to this dismal performance by their representatives? Evidently it is the other guy's representatives we disapprove of in Southern California because our elected officials keep getting recycled and re-elected. The integrity of the voter is abysmal. I am not sure if it is because our region is so incredibly partisan or so incredibly ignorant as to the correlation to our votes and our outcomes.

Case in point are the teachers. Teachers have been furloughed and laid off this past year because of the lack of funds from Sacramento to the school districts. Teachers, almost unanimously, donate about $6 per pay period locally to their Political Action Committee and an additional amount to the statewide PAC at the California Teachers Association. Keeping in mind that teachers are being laid off because of the poor fiscal management and decisions made by our California Legislature over the past decade or more, the teachers are continuing to fund the campaigns of the same politicians who have caused the furloughs and lay-offs.

Chances are after the November 2010 election our Assembly and Senate will look identical to how it looks now because of gerrymandered districts, ignorant voters and ignorant public employee union members who continue to donate to PACs that support the status quo. Next spring our school districts will go through the lay off procedures once again as the same politicians in the same jobs will continue to produce the same results: less money for local education and the perpetuation of structural deficits. Don't believe me? Here is the California Teachers Association endorsement page for the coming election. This is a real diverse group isn't it?

As for Republicans they have already shown their rewarding bad behavior by nominating Mike Villines for Insurance Commissioner in the primaries. Villines is one of a few Republicans that crossed the aisle to vote for the biggest tax increase in history last year. A vote made after he signed a "No Tax Pledge" and vociferously defended the No Tax Pledge publicly. He did not and will not get my vote, not only for his vote that allowed the tax hikes to go through last year but for his lack of integrity and honesty.

Speaking of integrity, in my local Congressional District that went approximately 70% for Obama in 2008 my Congressional Representative is running for re-election. On a record that has been with the Democratic Majority in virtually every single vote, Laura Richardson has shown the District she is nothing if not loyal to the Democratic National Committee, that plays well politically but what about her integrity? In a District that has unemployment near 20% she has supported legislation that hinders small businesses and economic growth. Not that she cares since she has her job and for Richardson that is all that matters. But this is only part of the Richardson iceberg.

A woman driven to climb the political ladder, Richardson bought off union support for her run for the Assembly by introducing legislation in Long Beach that would require hotels on city leases to unionize, thankfully the legislation was vetoed but Richardson got her support, won her primary and in the district was a shoe in for Assembly. In the Assembly she voted to require the California Indian Tribes to unionize their casinos. This guaranteed her support in the race to win the Congressional seat of Juanita Millander-MacDonald who had passed away while in office. Richardson won this race as well and promptly quit making payments on the home she purchase in Sacramento barely a year before.

This past month Richardson was cleared by the Ethics Committee in Congress. She was before the committee because of the dealings with her home in Sacramento that was foreclosed upon, sold by the bank (WAMU) at auction and then bought back from the buyer by WAMU and given back to Richardson. Seems there was some "mistake" in the foreclosure, of all the foreclosures in California the past few years hers was the "mistake" and the bank paid a premium to re-acquire the home to give to her. Evidently, according to the Ethics Committee, the transaction that resulted after Richardson personally contacted WAMU's lobbyist in Sacramento to re-purchase the home well above the foreclosure auction price and deed it back to Richardson was "normal business." Maybe for a member of Congress but I'm not sure too many families in California have experienced such "normal business." Further the committee bought that Richardson was a victim of "loan fraud." Richardson was as much a victim of loan fraud as President Clinton was a victim of sexual harassment and assault.

But to the super-majority in the California 37th Congressional District it does not matter that the incumbent is not intelligent enough, or has enough integrity, to know her personal finances and whether she can afford to support three homes on a public salary. It does not matter that she has received special favors from a now defunct bank that others going through foreclosure will never receive. It does not matter that her loyalty is to herself and to her PAC contributors. What matters is they don't have to think, don't have to look at the character of the candidate, don't have to see any connection between her votes and their conditions. Just look inside the parenthesis and make your vote.

Eighty percent of Americans do not approve of the job Congress is doing, but fifty percent of the registered voters approve of the job their Representative is doing?

Hard to believe that any group that is comprised of individuals selected by a series of majorities could have a lower approval rating than Congress, but the California Legislature manages to succeed. Even more challenging in California than upsetting a Congressional incumbent is upsetting an incumbent in either the Assembly or Senate due to the incredibly partisan districts. That and again the ignorance of the voters to connect their condition and that of the state with their own voting patterns. Despite the almost criminal sell outs to state employees at the expense of the rest of the budget the champion of sell outs, Warren Furutani's district will re-elect him. Rarely is there a SEIU or other labor rally where Furutani is not present. He led a march in Long Beach against immigration policies in which many members of the union were interviewed for a story in the Press-Telegram but did not give their names as they were illegal immigrants. A union with as much power as SEIU that control many in the legislative majority having protests about immigration that are populated by their own members who are illegal immigrants. And the voters will punch Furutani's ticket again in November, and other candidates supported by the SEIU, CTA and other unions reaping billions in the state budgets.

Do voters make the same decisions in their lives that do not include voting? Do they buy the car they have the 80% disapproval for? Do they date the person who they have only a 16% feeling of "excellent" or "good?" Of course not, but that is because they can make the immediate connection between action and resulting impact on their condition.

Across the nation Americans are waking up to the power of their vote, the most powerful right in our Constitution, to select our representatives in government. Reinforcing the studies that have shown for some time the poor performance of our statewide education system, the lesson is yet to be learned by California voters.

I am hoping that come November the majorities in districts across the state will have done their homework and pass their tests in the voting booth. Especially in the CA 37th Congressional District.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Try Enforcement Before Any More Regulations

This week I took two tests to fulfill the requirements of the National Mortgage Licensing System Requirements (NMLSR) for the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 (SAFE Act, Title V of Housing and Economic Recovery Act). As I studied for the tests I realized how many different agencies, acts, regulations and oversight departments I am responsible to for the simple act of originating a mortgage. Despite the myriad of reports, licenses, disclosures, compliance audits, etc we go through, somehow we must go through even more since Congress and the Administration feel the only way to solve any problem is with more regulations and agencies (this applies to state government as well).

Here is a partial list of the Federal Laws covering the mortgage industry:

  • SAFE Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing
  • Housing and Economic Recovery Act
  • TILA Truth In Lending Act
  • Regulation Z
  • RESPA Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
  • Regulation X
  • HPA Homeowner's Protection Act
  • HOEPA Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act
  • FCRA Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • FACT Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003
  • Do Not Call Registry
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (aka Financial Modernization Act)
  • Fair Housing Act
  • ECOA Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • CRA Community Reinvestment Act
  • HMDA Home Mortgage Disclosure Act
  • MDIA Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act
  • Regulation H Flood Disaster Protection Act

We are regulated, overseen, report to or otherwise beholden to:

  • FTC
  • HUD
  • Federal Reserve Board
  • FNMA
  • FHA
  • FHFA
  • CA DRE (or CA DOC)
  • OCC

These are not complete lists but the major ones of regulations and overseers. But evidently we need more as exemplified by the financial reform bill about to be passed by Congress that will add more agencies, more acts, more regulations, plus more costs, more paperwork and fewer options for consumers.

Our government is expanding its influence and control to solve problems or issues that could be solved by following and enforcing existing regulations, or eliminating existing regulations.

Obamacare could have been cut to 10% if existing regulations were repealed to allow greater freedom for Americans to shop and purchase insurance and existing regulations enforced to reduce and eliminate fraud and waste.

The Gulf oil disaster could most likely have been averted had existing regulations and oversight been enforced and active.

The housing and credit crisis could have been mitigated and the depth of the recession shallower if existing regulations had not created an environment where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became subprime lenders with the encouragement and blessing of Congress. Mortgage fraud could have been reduced greatly if existing regulations had been enforced.

I am glad there is finally a national license for mortgage originators, unfortunately like most legislation targeting an industry it is half-assed and will have a net negative impact. Excluded from the licensing requirements are those who work for federally chartered depositories (Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo...). Essentially the bright minds in Congress and the regulatory bodies who created the SAFE legislation feel there is no fraud or deceit among mortgage originators in federally licensed institutions. Right, and they will also take your three dollar bill.

The overall purpose of the SAFE Act, combined with many of the provisions in the financial reform bill about to be passed is to eliminate independent mortgage originators. The legislation eliminates many mortgage products and options, or limits their use to direct lenders. Selfishly the legislation helps our company by eliminating competition. But elimination of competition and products does not benefit the consumer/home owner. It does benefit the major banks, of which there are becoming fewer and fewer.

Also benefiting the big banks is the Federal Reserve policy limiting the ability of small banks to lend to small businesses. In meetings this week a top Fed auditor admitted they are discouraging community banks or the seven hundred plus small banks on their "watch list" from lending to small companies as they do not want them taking on the risk. Restricting capital flow, revenue flow, credit extension hurts small businesses and communities and drives business from small banks to major banks. Eliminating competition increases costs and fees, and creates an environment where the federal government can more easily control our banking system.

And that is what all the legislation from this Congress and Administration is all about, more control. Restrict the number of companies and firms in the private sector and allow for more regulations that allow government take-over and control. Once passed it will not shock anyone to see a path towards nationalized banking, to go with our health care.

Exempt from the financial reform legislation are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, already in government trusteeship and majority ownership. The next step for the GSEs is to become part of HUD and fully under government control.

After financial reform President Obama wants to see "comprehensive immigration reform." "Comprehensive." That means a multi-thousand page bill that no legislator will read that dramatically alters our nation. The ultimate purpose could be the naturalization of tens of millions of illegal immigrants--future voters. The immediate impact will be more regulations that will be ignored by regulatory bodies and not enforced leading to the same issues and problems in the future.

Because of lack of enforcement of laws and regulations already on the books the current Congress and President have created issues that require "comprehensive" legislation. Comprehensive means elimination or restriction of free markets, more government control and intervention, higher fees and taxes and less freedom and liberty for consumers and business owners.

I would like to see one regulation passed: Government agencies or individuals who do not fulfill their duties and obligations of oversight, regulation and enforcement are subject to penalties and fines including restriction or forfeiture of their salaries, benefits and pensions.

Enforce the laws we have and see how many problems and issues get solved that way before imposing more laws that restrict our freedoms and liberties and increase the control and dominance of our government.

Happy Bastille Day commemorating when French citizens overthrew a tyrannical government.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Soccer: We Get It...We Just Suck At It

Let me start by saying I am not an anti-soccer snob. I played my first game of soccer sometime around 1973 when I noticed a game being played on the field next to the high school up the street from our home in Berwyn, Pa. I was riding my bike home from a friend's and stopped to see what was going on. There were some kids and about two or three adults. "Hey, want to play?" "I guess." I was pressed into service and put in the goal.

Up to this point I was a three sport participant, Pop Warner football in the fall, rec league basketball in the winter and Little League baseball in the spring. No where near the best on any team, I worked my butt off to stay on the team. Now here was another sport. When I entered Junior High I tried out and made the team, it seems soccer has a position for guys who are not the fastest or strongest but who have stamina. I became a midfielder as I could run the whole game, not the fastest but able to keep going.

When we moved to New York I was on the freshman squad in high school. That year the New York Cosmos in the now defunct North American Soccer League signed Pele, the Brazilian superstar. He came to our school and put on a clinic for us. I'll never forget his opening talk that lasted ten to fifteen minutes. He walked up and down juggling a ball that never hit the ground--we had never seen such incredible touch.

When we moved to Brussels my sophomore year I joined the team there, again not the fastest, strongest or best kicker, but someone who could stay out on the field and just keep going. Our coach was a former player for Liverpool and the English squad sometime in the 1960's; our colors were white and red and patterned after The Reds. My junior year I had a letter to the editor in Sports Illustrated when I wrote that the NASL would benefit from the European practice of not interrupting games with commercials but rather put the sponsors logos on the screen during live play. This year ESPN and ABC finally got the message with their coverage of the World Cup.

Having lived in Brussels during the 1978 World Cup and experienced the passion of the people. While Belgium did not qualify neighboring France, Germany and the Netherlands all had teams in the the draw. At the time very few homes in the country had televisions, Belgium itself had two channels for the entire country, importing two each from France, Netherlands and Germany for viewing. Bars would be full with patrons slowly sipping their Stella Artois or Maes Pils to make it last through the match. Department stores would turn over their display windows to banks of televisions with speakers set up outside and the sidewalks would be crowded with spectators watching the games being beamed from Argentina. Belgium is officially bi-lingual (note "officially" unlike America) with the northern region, Flanders, speaking Flemish which is a Dutch dialect and the southern section, Wallonia, speaks French. Brussels, the capital, is in Flanders and is bi-lingual; all the signs are in Flemish and French. They do not like each other very much the Flemish and the Walloons, and tend to gravitate to the host nation of their language.

Holland made the finals of the 1978 World Cup and Belgium was somewhat crazy with the prospect that it would bring home the Cup. Alas it was not to happen and Argentina won its first cup.

Since then I have followed, as well as I can in a country that has not really followed, the World Cup. Not to the extent that I can whip off the winners of all the Cups, nor know all the world stars of the game. But I understand the depth of the sport throughout the world and our place as an also ran in the sport. I "get" soccer. Maybe a bit more than some of those who are arrogantly suggesting those who criticize the sport do not "get it."

Soccer is not a success in America for many reasons. The marketing ability of the NFL and NBA to capture audiences. The lack of a solid league that has built fan bases that translate into butts in the seats and eyeballs on the screen for games. But mainly soccer does not succeed in America because we suck at it.

Just about every four years we are hyped by the covering network that "this could be the year that the U.S. Soccer Team breaks through at the World Cup." "If the U.S. squad does not advance this year it will be a disappointment." And we don't. This year we lost to Ghana, a country with a population of about 23 million people and our trip to the Finals was once again derailed. In 2014 our boys in Brazil will get bounced and not make the semi-finals. Why? Because we suck.

With a population in excess of 300 million people from which to draw twenty five players we have the masses to produce a team that can get through all the regional qualifying, but once we meet the elite we are not one of the elite. Our soccer athletes just are not as good as those from other teams and may never be.

It is a bit frustrating to think about. Across the country we have millions of kids playing soccer through AYSO, school and college. There are a lot more kids and young adults playing soccer than there are playing hockey, and yet our national hockey team reaches the elite levels. Why? Because in other countries their best athletes tend to play soccer and then hockey. Our hockey team consists of our third level "best" athletes, as do our soccer players.

And that is why when it comes to international soccer we suck at it. We are not sending our best athletes, nor our secondary athletes, to the game. If we did the rest of the world would bitch and complain and try to ban us from playing the game. Our national soccer team is the one thing we give the world that makes them feel superior to us. If there was a national effort to win the World Cup in 2018 we would win. But at a price.

What if our national team consisted of Kobie Bryant, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Reggie Bush, Brian Urlacher or any of numerous professional athletes in our country who chose basketball, football or baseball for their careers? Can you imagine a secondary back from almost any top ten college football team playing soccer? What about an outside linebacker on defense? No country comes near our in producing the number of athletes with the size, strength, speed and athleticism as the United States. None of them play soccer.

Once the top athletes have decided, usually by the end of high school, to play one of the big three, the other athletes then dilute themselves among the secondary sports, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, volleyball, swimming and in many areas baseball is included in this group. It is rare that the top athletes are playing one of the non-revenue producing sports, so rare that any top athlete that does play one of these sports is a superstar.

For those who lament that soccer is not popular in America because we don't "get it," I say, you don't get it. There are enough of us who have played the game, coached or watched our kids play the game and been exposed to it to know the game and "get it." What you don't get is that we don't watch the games because we know we are not watching our best athletes participate. When a network turns over an hour of programming so a soccer player can announce he is going to play for whatever the name of the team in Miami is called, then we might win internationally.

Until then, soccer will remain a secondary sport and the United States will remain a secondary power in international play.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


In November the same voters that have consistently voted to bankrupt our state will have on their ballots Proposition 19. Prop 19 will legalize marijuana in California. Not just pot for medicinal purposes, but for any and all purposes.

There are many ramifications of such a vote, unfortunately I do not have the faith in the average California voter to understand the ramifications, nor to think through the consequences passage of Prop 19 brings. There will be plenty of money to fund the Yes On 19 campaign, billionaire George Sorros is rumored to be ready to spend considerably to support the Proposition. Websites are popping up to generate funds for Yes On 19, and one wonders how much Mexican drug cartels are pouring into the effort, after all who will benefit more than them if Prop 19 passes?

And therein lies the biggest problem I have with legalizing pot in California, even medical marijuana use. Unless the cultivation and transportation of marijuana is legalized in the state and all pot sold in the state must come from a registered state pot farm then we are funding the drug cartels in Mexico with our marijuana consumption, legal or illegal. Take a look at Mexico and what drug money has done to the country. Already Third World before the rise of the drug cartels in the last decade, the country now is lawless and run by drug dealers, especially in the regions along the United States border. Now imagine legal consumption of Mexican grown marijuana, an increase in demand in California, federal laws against the importation of marijuana, and an Administration that is determined not to monitor our borders.

Arizona passed its immigration legislation in response to a federal government that has refused to protect our borders, refused to enforce federal immigration laws and refused to acknowledge the deep rooted crime and costs associated with the open border with Mexico. Showing its position on illegal immigration and enforcement of current immigration laws the Department of Justice has sued Arizona to stop the enactment of SB 1970. What happens in the Arizona deserts if Prop 19 passes? Or do Californians, especially those supporting Prop 19, care?

One of the arguments in favor of passing Prop 19 is the tax revenue it will raise. "Tax marijuana and it will generate billions of dollars in tax revenue for the state and help solve our budget crisis." No, stopping spending on myriads of failed social programs, re-negotiating contracts with state workers' unions particularly for pensions and benefits, and not borrowing more money for bonds to pay for ridiculous propositions will solve our budget problems. Giving more tax revenue to our legislators in Sacramento is akin to giving more booze to an alcoholic, it won't end well.

Supposing the proposition passes, where is the tax collected? At point of sale? At transfer from the grower to the distributor? What if the retailer is buying from a dealer getting the pot from Mexico? How is that transaction taxed? Who monitors the collection of the pot tax? Who monitors the cultivation of the pot and ensures it goes from grower to retailer? Who monitors the dealers, I mean retailers, dispensing of the drug? Who monitors the dealers to ensure they are only purchasing from legal and registered growers--if that is required? Will this cost money? What about the cost to local and county governments to monitor the law and the sale and use to ensure it is all law abiding?

I am going out on a limb and making the presumption that those in favor of legalizing pot in California are more liberal than conservative. A side benefit for those who support Prop 19 will probably be the up-ticket benefit on election day. Just as Obama being on the ticket in November 2008 was responsible for the failure of Prop 8 to pass, Prop 19 being on the ticket will most likely benefit Barbara Boxer in her re-election bid against Carly Fiorina and Jerry Brown in his gubernatorial bid against Meg Whitman. The increase in pro-pot voters will likely lead to an increase in votes for the Democratic office seekers, a two for one deal for the liberal portion of the state. Incumbent on defeating Prop 19 will be a get out the vote campaign targeting socially conservative Democrats who voted for Obama but against Prop 8. Without Obama on the ticket however it will be difficult to get these voters to the polls again, and if they do show up chances are if they vote "No" on Prop 19 they may check all the (D) boxes as well.

Prop 19 is a bad idea for our state. It is another in a series of visceral propositions that Californians tend to vote for because it makes sense to them or makes them feel good about being engaged in democracy. But like bonds for high speed trains, or bonds for stem cell research, or bonds for reconstruction of the watersheds, once passed the reality and consequences of the propositions come to bear and damages our states finances and spreads to negatively impact the state and local governments.

For those who argue, "well alcohol is legal." Yes it is and the manufacture, distribution, transportation and sale are established and tightly regulated. Drug cartels in Mexico are not supplying us our Crown Royal and Miller Lite. Drug cartels are providing our nation with pot, meth, cocaine and drugs I probably do not even know about. How good of an idea is it to provide them with a legal and supposedly legitimate market for pot that enhances their revenue, and allows them to smuggle other illegal drugs into the country with their pot shipments?

No on Proposition 19. Click on "Comments" below and let us know how you feel.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Raising Generations of Wimps

Listening to the radio last evening on the way home I was incredibly frustrated. The topic was Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who was attempted to follow in her older brother's wake and sail around the world, solo. Reflecting the incredibly over protective society and culture that we have created, mother's were calling in chastising Sunderland's parents, ascribing motives, stating as fact the level of intelligence and maturity the sixteen year old Sunderland must have because they have a sixteen year old girl.

Thank goodness for the Abby Sunderland's of the world. Young people who have a dream, have acquired skills and who are fortunate to have parents who support their dreams and help build their skills. The Abby Sunderland's of our nation are getting to be fewer and farther between as our Nanny State culture and sociology not only prevent the ability of an Abby to develop, but if and when she does descends on the parents of such a remarkable young women with threats of taking away other children and prosecution for child endangerment.

To recap, Sunderland set off from Marina Del Rey with the goal of sailing around the world in her boat "Wild Eyes." Her brother had accomplished the feat a few years ago and at the time set the record for youngest solo circumnavigator, since broken. She grew up on the water and sailing in small and big boats. Earlier this month a rescue signal was sent from her boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Having survived a big storm, Abby was below deck repairing her engine (yes a sixteen year old girl repairing a marine engine) when a rogue wave rolled her boat. It rolled completely, broke her mast, damaged much of her electronic gear and also knocked Abby out for a time according to her account. A few days after her disabling she was rescued by a French ship that was a few hundred miles away--close in the Indian Ocean. Yesterday Abby's mother gave birth to either her seventh or eighth child, a boy named after the captain of the French vessel that rescued Abby.

Before she took off the Helicopter Moms and Dads were out in force trying to get the State of California from preventing Abby from setting sail. Because their own children are coddled, wrapped and taken everywhere in their Navigators or Escalades they feel every child must be like their own. Unfortunately more and more are becoming unable to fend for themselves, or even make breakfast, as parents tend to more and more of their needs. On the other end of the spectrum are more and more children who are ignored by their young parent(s) and raised by grandparents. A gulf is forming between the entitled and pampered and the destitute and ignored among our children. Abby, who is neither, provides hope that once again our nation can raise children who are able to learn skills, focus and apply them to create adventure, conquer goals and challenge themselves and others.

I have a friend who works in a Southern California high school in an urban setting. She is an administrator and over the years her job has evolved so that her primary duties are to work with pregnant students. Keep them in school through their pregnancies and then after delivery getting them back to school. Special classes have to be set up, there are enough pregnancies to have their own teachers. Should not this situation, in just one high school but no doubt reflective of many in our region, be of greater concern than another sixteen year old girl sailing a boat by herself?

This weekend another teenager, a fifteen year old, was shot and killed in Long Beach. Police say he was a gang member, one of tens of thousands of fifteen year olds in the region in gangs. One of hundreds of young teenagers killed in gang violence of the past several years, his murder merits a column on the front page and soon will be forgotten by all but a few. Shouldn't the condition that allows families to raise multiple generations of gang bangers be a bigger concern and issue than parents who have given their children the skills, physical, emotional and intellectual, to sail a high tech boat with the goal of circumnavigation?

On the one end of the spectrum we have the throw-away children the state and local governments feel can be treated with more and more money and programs that have proven do not work as they try not to caste judgement on the parents, but rather want to feel good about how they are trying to tackle the problem. They may feel good about the programs they have developed that continue to fail, but their failure is costing lives and creating future failures as the problems grow. Afraid to look judgemental they cannot come to castigate young, unemployed or still in high school, poor women having babies with absent dads (often thankfully), often more than one baby with more than one dad. These children are on the road to gang membership because there is no family to raise them, but rather a public sector that employs no consequences for the mother, or the father, or the grandmother or grandfather who enabled their teenage children to become parents. But ask their opinion of Abby Sunderland and her parents and the judgements are easy to come by.

Go by any elementary school on a school day and count how many children are walking or riding their bikes to school compared to how many are being dropped off by moms in huge SUVs slurping on a Starbucks or Big Gulp as they drop off their kids then speed off at 35 MPH in the school zone talking on the phone. Go to any sports practice and see how many kids from the neighborhood have walked or rode their bike to the practice compared to how many are not only driven but their parents are sit and watch everything Salem or Montana do.

Our school has a Talent Show and some parents are upset because the kids are judged and winners are announced. Uh-oh! You know what that means? If there is a winner their must be a loser. Yes, I'm sorry but Jennifer or Jose did not sing or dance as well as the other kid--evidently you are the only who could not see it. Do you think Abby Sunderland's parents lamented awards being handed out in school for performance, achievement, success? Probably not, but then their kids probably were and are kicking every other kid's butt.

Drive around neighborhoods on weekends or after school, how many kids do you see out playing in the yards and streets? Was it like this when you were growing up? Our kids are padded from knees, to wrists, to elbows to heads to ride a push scooter. The state has mandated that they be strapped into special car seats until they are practically having their first periods or "night time discharges" and my guess is that by the time my kids reach sixteen the minimum driving age will have moved to eighteen, or maybe twenty-one.

I am not sure what is worse for the future of current generations, the single moms having kids in gang infested communities destined to repopulate the gangs, or the Helicopter Parents who hover over every little move and activity of precious Tonya or Austin. These parents never leave their children, at birthday parties you need food and beverage for each kid and at least one parent, at rehearsals or practices, at school field trips, one wonders if the kids must leave the door open when using the bathroom.

We are raising two types of children, those with no hope because they are born into the high crime, low parental touch, community or they are born into the high touch, afraid to let you fail and learn community. In the meantime Abby Sunderland and her family is criticized because she is neither. God forbid some more children in our society are raised to achieve success on their own, or learn how to cope with failure when they don't.

Ask the mom of the fifteen year old shot down this weekend if she would rather her son met the fate he met, or had the chance to sail around the world with the risk he may die that way. Abby knows the answer.

Abby Sunderland's news conference, does this sound like teenagers you encounter?

Abby Sunderland's web page


Monday, June 28, 2010

May Peace Prevail On Earth

In Sign Language, Spanish, Hebrew and English these words are written, "May Peace Prevail On Earth" and attached to a Peace Pole dedicated on Sunday by the Seal Beach Center for Spiritual Living, a congregation of Religious Science. These words, "May Peace prevail on earth," are part of the weekly service as a lamp is lit symbolizing the desire, the vision for world peace. It is a vision wholly embraced and sought by Doctor Reverend Peggy Price, Dr. Peggy, minister at the church, and spiritual advisor and mentor to many; including yours truly.

Dr. Peggy challenges me routinely with sermons, teachings and our conversations regarding peace on earth. Universal peace, a world without war or armed conflict, is quite a vision. It is a vision everyone certainly has. But to what extent does our current reality enable such a vision? This is the source of my challenges with the means by which the vision may be achieved. I believe it is the source of all, or most, people's challenges with achieving a state of world peace.

I see peace as two-fold, there is Peace which is internal and individual. Daily I strive to live in Peace. Dispel my internal conflicts and quell daily assaults on my psyche that arise from just living life and working at the goals of achieving inner, personal Peace. Release anxieties, fears and frustrations for myself and family at times can be challenging but ultimately working to achieve that inner-Peace brings the release I seek.

Then there is peace, as in peace between nations, between rivals, between foes. This is the peace where there is absence of war, absence of oppression, absence of violence. How do we get to this state of global peace?

Yesterday in her sermon Dr. Peggy spoke of Peace within, saying (paraphrasing and not a direct quote to what she said), no President, no Senator, no Congressman, no Mayor can give us Peace. No Reverend, no Minister, no Priest, no teacher can give us Peace. For each of us must find our own Peace. Once we find it for ourselves by living within it we will show others that Peace so they too may find theirs. But can these people, elected officials, religious leaders, give us "peace?"

Many feel they can. Many feel that if our President and elected leaders withdrew American troops from conflicts and "hot-spots" around the world that other leaders would follow and peace would result. If we speak to the despot building nuclear arms with the intent of destroying another civilization or nation, that conversation will result in peace and the absence of conflict. That if the United States were to unilaterally disarm and disable all nuclear weapons all other nations would follow suit creating a world free from nuclear weapons. Ardent and committed pacifists believe if we remove the military element from our nation we will not have to turn the other cheek as the absence of the ability to make war, even in defense, will disarm those who would strike our cheek in the first place.

Dr. Peggy is not, to my understanding though I have never asked her, an ardent pacifist. She recognizes that past conflicts and wars have resulted in freedom from tyranny, slavery and oppression. Acknowledging the positive outcome of past conflicts seems to acknowledge the potential need for future conflicts resulting in freeing others from tyrannical oppression or protecting freedoms they already have. The question becomes what is a "just" war? A "just" conflict? How is this framed within a vision of global peace?

Peace and safety are inter-related. The safer one feels the more at Peace one is. Absence of threats, physical, financial, social, makes finding Peace a much easier process for us. Perhaps this is why recent studies have shown that we become happier after the age of fifty. A myriad of factors may contribute to the happiness that grows as we age and mature, but deep seeded in this must be an inner-Peace and knowledge of personal safety.

Lack of safety, or the feeling or perception of safety, is the primary factor for lack of peace in our nation. With declarations and acts of war against our country by some Islamists, a small percentage of all Muslims globally, we know we are not entirely safe. For decades now striking in our country and others killing ordinary citizens in their ordinary routines, these groups have changed how we may achieve world peace. No longer lining up army to army, division to division, company to company to wage battle, the new threats to our safety and security come in bombs planted in cars or planes. With a belief of eternal pleasures if they die in their pursuit to eradicate "non-believers" these terrorists create the biggest challenge in history to the freedoms and liberties of not only our nation but others as well. How to combat these threats while maintaining a vision that peace prevails on Earth?

As we enter yet another phase in our war in Afghanistan, a new commander and a deadline to withdrawal American troops and turn over security to the Afghan government. As we face another deadline to withdrawal our troops in Iraq and allow local police and the Iraqi military to provide the security for Iraqi citizens. As we withdrawal our presence while terrorists remain in the region, what is to become of the people who live in the region? How is that vacuum filled? Presumable as it was filled before, by despots and tribal leaders who oppress the population and murder those who are of a different sect or tribe. And how does this impact our safety, or does it? And if it does not should we be concerned?

The United States of America is not perfect, but it is far less imperfect than any other nation on earth. We are a morally just society that has at times lost a bit of its morality. Whatever our flaws and imperfections, we stand as a beacon to those who desire freedom and liberty for all, including women. That beacon is a challenge to those who see freedom and liberty as threats to their power, their beliefs and their ability to oppress. When any conflict or crisis occurs where does the world look for intervention and/or relief? Not China. Not Russia. Not France. Not Senegal or Australia or Venezuela or Cuba. Not Saudi Arabia or Syria or Iran.

What will make it possible for our nation, for America, to be at peace throughout the globe? Free from attacks, free from being a target for those who wish to deny liberty and freedom to all? Free from being called upon to defend and protect other nations?

May peace prevail on Earth. Yes, may it. May it prevail in my lifetime, or my children's, or my grandchildren's, or my great-grandchildren. Some future generation will surely know this vision to come true. For today I embrace the vision for world peace, while also knowing our safety and freedom is challenged and must be defended so those future generations may know that peace.

In the meantime I shall continue to strive for Peace. If all individuals are able to find this Peace it puts us all a step closer to peace prevailing on Earth. First with ourselves, then with our neighbors, then within our community, our city, our state and within our nation. When we reach absence of armed conflict and violence within our own country we then truly become a Beacon for the rest of the world and truly laying the foundation for global Peace.

If you are driving by the corner of 5th and Marina in Seal Beach, as you come to a halt at the stop sign, take a look at the Peace Pole and envision what your life, your children's life, would be like should Peace Prevail on Earth.

Click to learn more about the Seal Beach Center for Spiritual Living

UPDATE: This morning the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that 2nd Amendment rights extend to all individuals in all states. Interestingly the decision quoted extensively from members of Congress post-Civil War debating the 14th Amendment and the rights of "freedmen", former slaves, to keep and bear arms. The 19th Century lawmakers believed that a "loaded musket" was at times necessary for the freedmen to protect themselves, their families, their household and their freedoms. Peace, avoidance of conflict, by armed protection as a right. Interesting in the historical perspective of a topic still debated today.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Politics Like Water

Pour a glass of water on a table and as it spreads imagine instead of water it is politics, for they are similar. Without restraint it flows outward until restrained only by its own surface tension holds it back. It cuts into rock creating new streams and rivers reaching far into continents of mass. We are surrounded by it and it lays constantly under the surface. Life cannot exist without it.

Having beat the metaphor to death, the politics of water has constantly been a source of tension, money and emotions in California. Water is constantly in the news and lately the water news is as constant as it ever was.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is constantly in discussions in Southern California, I am guessing more so than many other areas that are not located on the Gulf itself. Our Pacific Ocean border gives us the ability to imagine tar on our own beaches, our own wonderful pelicans covered in oil, our own businesses impacted. The politics of the Gulf spill therefore are also of interest and conversation, unusually quiet in regards to any criticism of the governments response, not surprising but quiet nonetheless.

Arizona passes SB1070 and shakes up the immigration debate across the country. In Southern California that debate includes water. Our shared border with Arizona is water, the Colorado River, source of life for both states and California's agriculture in the region. Even debates on illegal immigration, state sovereignty and interstate commerce include water in California.

A continual debate and mired in politics is the Delta in Northern California. Hundreds of millions in bond measures pass to shore up levys that are as decrepit as those that failed in New Orleans several years ago. Politics of national versus state's rights and jurisdictions, economic and environmental interest lawsuits and the value of water for all versus life for a fish smaller than your finger.

Debate now begins on whether California's decade long drought is finished, living in Southern California I believe there is no drought but rather normal conditions of living in an arid climate and reclaimed desert. The drought debate comes to for as water companies have enacted policies to restrict water use, encourage conservation and raised rates.

Water. As one philosopher said, man values gold but if dying of thirst would give it all for a cup of water. It is our most precious commodity and we cannot sustain ourselves, or our lifestyle, our culture, our communities without it. We cannot make water, though we are trying to convert ocean water to potable water, we are not there yet.

We drink it, we water our property with it, we play in it, on it and under it, we eat from the bounty it sustains, we clean ourselves in it. Water is the focus of some much of our lives, and because of our ocean neighbor, perhaps more so than most parts of the country.

Locally we have had a debate for years regarding a tremendous breakwater that was constructed by the federal government over seventy years ago. The purpose of the breakwater was to create a huge anchorage for ships to make harbor in Long Beach. Then a major Navy town, sailors and soldiers embarked from Long Beach to fight in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Home to the busiest port complex in the world, ships sit at anchor in the calm waters created by the breakwater before off loading goods from abroad or loading up on American goods.

For many years some of the residents have advocated deconstructing the breakwater and letting waves come crashing on our Long Beach shores once again. The picture above is Long Beach from sometime in the 30's before the breakwater was built, and also the condos and other developments. The Remove The Breakwater (RTB) crowd posits that our community will become flush with tourism dollars as those looking to enjoy the ocean flock to Long Beach rather than Huntington Beach or the South Bay beaches.

The Long Beach is bordered by two rivers, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel. Of particular interest in this breakwater debate is the LA River, more importantly the pigs and slobs who live upstream and dump their trash, crap and junk into the river bed, or that is washed off their streets and into the gutters, through the sewer lines and into the river. Because of the lack of wave action, the RTBs argue, the junk ends up on Long Beach shores. Remove the breakwater and all that junk will no longer be on our beaches and we will have clean ocean water.

Because of the politics and water, in this case water is a giant highway and primary mode of transportation of goods, the Port of Long Beach has a somewhat complex set of policies and restrictions as to where its profits and revenues must go. One would think that because it is in Long Beach, on property in the City of Long Beach and governed by appointments from Long Beach City Hall that Long Beach would benefit greatly from the profits and revenues of the Port. One would think. Because of some politics involving water several decades ago this is not the case. From time to time the City of Long Beach must go to the Port of Long Beach, hat in hand and ask for money. Money to cover development projects such as the Aquarium of the Pacific that cannot meet bond obligations is an example. The Port is like the City's rich uncle who under certain circumstances may help you buy a new car to get to your new job.

The City of Long Beach faces its annual budget deficit crisis. I believe the current number is $19 million but I may be off a few million. We have aging infrastructure that needs replacement and repair, so much so that a bond measure was put before voters specifically to complete infrastructure repairs and replacement because decades of no vision by those at City Hall, elected and appointed, failed to properly budget such expenditures. It failed, and so we are stuck with broken sidewalks, potholed streets, unpaved alleys, failing water and sewer mains.

Last night the City Council of Long Beach voted unanimously, well almost one member was absent, to spend $4 million on a feasibility study. The $4 million price tag is half the cost of the study with the Army Corps of Engineers picking up the other half of the study. The purpose of the study is to determine if the breakwater can be reconfigured to allow waves to return to Long Beach, while protecting existing property and residences and also not interfere with the commerce of the Port by retaining a safe and calm anchorage.

Here are some issues that I have not seen addressed by those most ardent about the breakwater and want its removal.

Isn't the Army Corps of Engineers the organization that was doing feasibility studies and repairs on the levies in New Orleans?

For $8 million of government funds, i.e. taxes, i.e. funds that could be spent on other projects, all we are getting is a survey, a study, paper.

What guarantees do we have that those overseeing the survey, the Army Corps of Engineers, do not have a preconceived outcome that the breakwater cannot be reconfigured? What happens then when our community is $4 million poorer and still have a breakwater?

Assuming the desired outcome from those in favor of spending the money on the survey results, i.e. the breakwater can be reconfigured, what next? Does anyone think that to go through the reconfiguration process will not cost a billion dollars? We are talking about a government project, it costs the government $400,000 to pour concrete for a skatepark or basketball court.

Where is the money to come from to pay for reconfiguring the breakwater? Will the City of Long Beach suddenly become flush, or will the Port of Long Beach be strong armed into coughing up the cash? After all the survey will take four years, then we will have years of planning, during this time several Port Commissioners will be up for re-appointment, or replacement.

Will the number of people going to the beach increase exponentially with the sudden addition of wave action at our beaches? Or will the local economies of Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and the South Bay suffer? Does that matter?

With our civic history of not being very good at budgeting and fiscal control, a scaling back of Marine Department personnel, staffing levels at Long Beach Police Department, the maintenance department and other workers who actually work in the city instead of City Hall, looming because of deficits; where do the funds come to keep the beaches now filled with people clean and safe?

The vision of enabling waves to return to our shores while enabling the vital Port traffic to continue and the property and residences to not be washed away in storms is quite compelling. Spending $4 million of public funds in our current economic state with no plans for what happens next seems short-sighted and wasteful.

The emotion and passion of the water has overcome our city leadership to enter into the agreement for a study. I would prefer that there had been some thought as to how to pay for reconfiguration, how to pay for increased personnel needs, how to manage and mitigate possible traffic and parking issues, had been discussed and thought out before committing to spending what amounts to 25% of our current deficit. On a study.

The lack of "what next" discussions exemplifies the biggest problem with all levels of government. Consequences of decisions and votes are not looked at and analyzed. Votes are made to make supporters happy, to satisfy an immediate visceral cause, and little heed is paid for "what next." How do we pay for what needs to happen next if the study says, yes the breakwater can be reconfigured? If we do not have the answer to that question then the study is a waste of money not matter what it determines.

You've spent the $4 million, now it is up to you, the City Council, to begin work right away on answering the "what if" and "what next." You have four years.

Of course by then we will have a new members of City Council and probably a new Mayor due to term limits and it becomes their problem. Politics.


Monday, June 21, 2010

What If We Ignored Politicians?

I believe that we are surrounded by perfect solutions to all situations at all times. Our humanness either prevents or inhibits our ability to see the myriad of solutions. Our race consciousness overrides the openness required to move beyond what we know, what we think we know, and our innate self-interest so we are receptive to all solutions available. Only by stepping out of ourselves and putting aside our personal history, our demographic identifiers, our prejudices, our expected outcomes, can we then be open to alternative solutions to problems and issues.

Accepting this process of solution finding, what if we ignored our politicians? What if we ignored the solutions that they present to problems that often they themselves have created? What if we ignored solutions that are formed often not because of their worth but rather because of what they can do--raise money and votes? What if we who are closest to most of the issues and problems looked inside ourselves and our immediate community rather than outside for the perfect solutions which exist by we have not seen?

Our problems are a lot different than they used to be. While many problems remain through history, poverty, illiteracy, quality housing for all, the percentage of our population afflicted with these problems are smaller than they were before. Consider the conditions in major urban areas such as New York City, Chicago or San Francisco one hundred years ago and know we have made great strides in education, sanitation, and safety.

But as our problems have changed so has our problem solving. It seems to me that over the years, especially the past few decades, we have ceded more and more of our problem solving and solution providing to those further and further away from ourselves and where problems exist. Instead of looking within our communities to solve our problems with solutions that exist locally, collectively we have removed ourselves and our communities from the process with the exception of a ballot cast every two or four or six years. Rather than having a local issue that needs addressing being addressed by local residents coming together to discuss the issue and the range of solutions, more and more residents have taken the path of waiting for the government to identify and solve the issue.

What if we lived and acted not out of selfish self-interest but out of what is right, ethical, moral? Can we even do this anymore? Our education system has curriculum designed and required by bureaucrats and politicians not in our community. Our health care delivery system has mandates and requirements that place incredible control in the hands of bureaucrats not in our communities protected by politicians residing far away most of the time. Our public safety is more and more detached as local communities interact less and less with those working to protect them. What solutions that we as a community have are even brought forth much less able to be enacted?

What if we ignored our politicians? What if we ignored the attachment identity that not only they have but that many, most, of us have as well. Attachment and detachment identity. What if we ignored politicians who stake themselves to one solution, in doing so their most ardent supporters stake themselves too, inhibiting the free commitment to the myriad of solutions that surround issues. Too often the solution is conceived by political party officials or workers so far removed from the problem being addressed that they have no concept of the issue much less any possible solutions. Too often the solution has very little to do with the actual problem and more to do with the individuals or groups that enable election and re-election.

What if we ignored the solutions offered by politicians to problems and instead required them to offer their philosophy of problem solving? What if instead of them telling us what problems we have and how they plan to solve them we demanded they tell us instead of what role the government should have in solving problems that exist in our community? What if instead of telling us who supports them we demanded instead that they tell us why that support exists? What if we broke down from the required political dialogue of what can you do for me/us and instead learned what can you do that allows me/us to do for ourselves?

Politicians have one purpose, to determine how much of our money they can acquire through taxes and then to determine how that money will be spent. Our money goes to the city, the county, the state, the federal government, with the belief by those given the power to collect our money that they can spend our money better than we can to solve problems that affect us more than them. What if we were able to use that money ourselves to solve these problems ourselves in our own communities? Are we capable? Would we be able to transcend selfish self-interest sufficiently to enact community self-interest and do what is right? Would we see a greater amount of accountability and personal responsibility within ourselves and our community?

Yesterday as we walked into Ralph's grocery store my eight year old asked me, "Dadda, if we are a free country why do we have laws?" I explained to her the value of laws, to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to be free so some of us do not restrict or stop the freedoms of others. But then I thought, she's is on the right track, but I ask "if we are a free country why do we have so many laws?" Because we are enabling our politicians to create more and more laws by ceding more and more control of solving our problems to them.

What if we ignored our politicians and began finding the perfect solutions that exist within ourselves and our own communities? What if our politicians recognized that more laws and more money do not solve problems, but individuals and communities with recognized common values, common morals, common principles of integrity, accountability, personal responsibility and trusteeship can solve problems?

We are surrounded by perfect solutions, are we open to seeing them? Do we have the internal integrity and courage to recognize them and implement them? Can we ignore our politicians and create our own solutions?