Archive for November, 2011

Just as it is difficult to shoehorn voters into classifications of conservatives or liberals, stratifying the nation’s population into two segments – 99% or 1% – does not make sense. But that is what the occupy movement has been attempting. 

It is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s proclamation after 9-11: “you are either with us, or against us.” The statement ignored international political and cultural complexities – while it may easy to define “against us,”  there are many degrees of “with us,” some of those straddling the vague line with “against.”

To establish a demarcation along the 99th percentile of wealth and income ignores the complexities of our nation.  The United States is as culturally, ethnically and politically diverse as the entire world.

The concept of wealth is in the eye of the beholder.

For some, the relevant benchmark in assessing economic democracy might be 49% versus 51%, the former representing the population segment that does not have any federal income tax liability. The fact that almost half the people are subsidized by the other may not appear to be very democratic to taxpayers filing their returns with the IRS.  That’s as simplistic as viewing 1% as unjustly enriched and every one of the 99% as victims.

Many Americans resent being pigeon-holed.  It might be the reason behind the diminishing levels of sympathy for the occupy movement.

They also do not hold a grudge against those who accumulate wealth, as long as it was acquired legally and tax returns were properly filed. Those who have not played by the rules or cheated are held in contempt.

Unfortunately, too many cheaters and rogues have gotten away murder…..and no one likes that.

So why are the occupiers wasting their time and drawing down municipal treasuries with their presence in downtown locations at a time when cities need every dime?

 Why aren’t they demonstrating at the SEC, the Department of Justice, FNMA, FHLMC, Congress and the White House – the ones who let us down either through lax regulation or failure to punish those responsible for the housing crisis?

Why not target the reckless CEOs that drove the financial industry into the ground? I’m sure they are enjoying the good life – sipping fine wine and playing golf at their country clubs – and perhaps chuckling at the people camped out in the cold in city parks.

If the government does not want to indict these scoundrels, maybe the occupiers can demonstrate in front of their homes, clubs and other social venues.  Let them know their actions will not be forgotten.

In the process, the occupation movement would win the hearts and minds of the nation.

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I always like to post Holiday music about this time of year.

This year’s selection is by the Seekers, an Australian folk group from the late sixties, best known for the hit single Georgy Girl, but they also produced several other top ten hits.

The group’s lead singer was Judith Durham, a versatile singer who started off in jazz. She ranks with the top female folk vocalists of her time – Mary Travers, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins.

I still have the Best of the Seekers in vinyl, which I purchased in 1968.

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When you have a City Controller who feeds from the same trough as the mayor, it should not come as a surprise she would overlook an attempt by Hizzoner to direct monies away from a voter-approved fund to expand transit,  for a purpose that should be covered by ongoing operating revenues.

Villaraigosa wants to use the fund to cover the cost of street repaving. Street improvements and repairs are allowable uses, but a far cry from the sales pitch used to promote Measure R in November 2008.

Supporters of the measure, which added a half-cent increase to the county sales tax, emphasized shiny new subways and other rail projects.  They are easier to hype than mundane repairs – repairs that should have been addressed over the years from the general fund were it not for irresponsible financial management by our elected officials.

There was no meaningful public discussion of prioritizing uses of the additional sales tax revenue during the campaign, and we are talking about a lot of money.

You would think that officials charged with the responsibility of keeping watch of the financial health of the city would weigh in on potentially large commitments against our future infrastructure needs. But Controller Wendy Greuel may as well have zipped her mouth closed. Why would she want to ruffle Villaraigosa’s feathers when she may need his support to succeed him as the mayor?

MTA chief Art Leahy recently warned that Measure R revenues have declined and may be $4- to $6-billion less than the original $40-billion estimated.

That decline threatens rail projects such as the Crenshaw/LAX line and who knows what impact it will have on the Subway-to-the-Sea, which could cost $9 billion. It is conceivable that the project would have to be scaled back, further reducing what some say are optimistic assessments of its benefits.

The City of Los Angeles’ share of Measure R is $2-billion, which may also be at risk if revenues do not dramatically improve. A smaller pie means smaller pieces.

The mayor wants to borrow $800-million from this share, plus incur $600-million in borrowing costs, to repair 1,500 miles of streets. If the proposal is approved, it will effectively wipe out most – maybe all – of the $2-billion, depending on developments in the economy.

Think of it as spending money on waxing your clunker of a car instead of buying a new one.

In any well run organization, repairs and maintenance are funded from ongoing revenues derived from normal operations, not by mortgaging the future in a manner that could curtail important capital spending down the line.

Just as he did by deferring the payment of police overtime and stretching out the costs of the ill-conceived Early Retirement Incentive Program, Mayor Villaraigosa has a penchant for living for today with tomorrow’s dollars.  He has a willing accomplice in Wendy Greuel.

Think back to 2008 when our city had a controller who was not afraid to challenge the mayor’s deceptive use of a new trash fee hike, the purpose of which was to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD’s ranks.  Over half the revenue went to support ongoing operations; only 366 officers were hired.

Laura Chick criticized Mayor Villaraigosa for not being straightforward with the voters when he campaigned for the fee hike.  She concluded that the voters had a reasonable expectation that the additional revenues would go towards direct hiring of new officers, not to cover existing commitments.

Will Wendy Greuel show the same spine?

I think not.

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California has been following me since I started my project in Virginia.

First there was the August 23rd earthquake in Mineral, Virginia, about 10 miles west of my work location and 35 miles from Richmond.

Now, Steven Spielberg comes on my heels for his biopic about Abraham Lincoln

It is my understanding the film will focus on the last three months of the war, during which time the 16th President visited General Grant while the siege of the city was underway.  However, Lincoln’s most memorable trip to the city occurred over April 3-4, his arrival only one day after it was abandoned by the Confederate Army.  He disembarked from a naval vessel at Rockett’s Landing and walked two miles to the residence of Jefferson Davis. An escort of Marines was dispatched but never caught up with the President. Security was  much looser in those days, to say the least.

Filming has been underway in recent weeks around the city.  Dirt and sod were brought in to cover the streets around the shooting locations.  The City of Richmond has had practice with converting its urban  locales.  The HBO series John Adams was shot here.

A battle scene is scheduled to be shot tomorrow (11/16) on the south side of the James River.  A former prison site with 180 acres will be used.

Some of the technical crew is staying at my hotel.  I have learned that Daniel Day-Lewis is living the part of Lincoln 24/7, staying in character at all times. Sally Fields plays Mary Todd Lincoln.

I also heard from a source that Mr. Spielberg purchased a home in the historic Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, although it would seem a rental arrangement would be more believable.  Church Hill has many restored Victorian residences and is where Saint John’s Episcopal Church is located.  Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death speech” there. 

The film is targeted for release in April 2012.

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Maybe Stephen Box has time to spare, or at least time to tackle all of the issues facing the city and the nation.

However, chiding neighborhood councils for not weighing in on issues such as Occupy LA, campaign reform and the city budget reveals his lack of appreciation for the limited time unselfish volunteers have to conduct business.

Box dismisses the importance of board discussions about the costly sidewalk ordinance that may cost residents thousands of dollars each and restrictions on the use of the purchasing card, which represents the only practical  means of spending for NCs.

Box says “neighborhood councils are preoccupied with their own elections.”

I suppose he believes they should roll over and tolerate the city’s failure to support elections.  Of course, there must be nothing wrong with pushing them to 2014 to save a few bucks.  So what if many current board members will leave before then and their replacements seated by a chaotic, unregulated selection process.  

In short, the neighborhood councils are in a battle for their existence.

Yes, I wish we could devote time to larger citywide issues, but priorities are what they are and the boards labor to push back against obstacles created by one of the most mismanaged city governments in the nation, a government that would rather see the NC system collapse.

Some of the best and brightest board members and active stakeholders are fully absorbed by monitoring and challenging the devious actions of the DWP and its powerful union, and the Public Works Department.  Rate increases planned by these two unrestrained juggernauts will cripple homeowners, many of whom are underwater on their mortgages.

NC Budget Advocates have become more of an independent voice in recent years and do not shy away from criticizing unrealistic assumptions while offering sound advice.

NC planning and land use committees are ever vigilant when it comes to fighting oversized projects.

There are the little things, too.  NC members cooperating and supporting the LAPD and LAFD. Organizing pet adoptions.  Supporting local school activities.

But all of that is not good enough for Box. 

And on top of that, the Pico Neighborhood Council dared to table a discussion on the Occupy LA until the next meeting!

I guess Pico NC and other NC activists don’t have as much free time as the former City Council candidate and can’t keep up with the pace of his personal agenda.

I have to wonder if Box’s candidacy was nothing more than a vanity campaign to promote his image and self interests.

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It was reported in the Washington Post that Penn State approached former Richmond Spider coach and alumnus Mike London about taking over for Joe Paterno.

London is in his second year of a five-year contract with the University of Virginia.  The Cavaliers’ program was on the skids; London has turned things around quickly and the team is positioned for a bowl game and a shot at the ACC title. 

London has apparently declined the offer – and I don’t blame him.

Filling a vacuum created by a tragedy is an opportunity in most cases, although a bittersweet one.  However, what happened at Penn State was not just a tragedy – it was also a crime.  No one can be certain if all of the accomplices and enablers at the school have been identified….probably not. The story is certain to become more sordid.

To complicate matters, there appears to be a selfish, pervasive culture among the students which puts football above innocent victims of a despicable crime.

We can be certain that there are also many students who were repulsed by the crime and the subsequent inaction by the coaching staff and administration, but their voices have not been heard in the media. Unfortunately, most students appear to be more interested in allowing the disgraced program to play ball rather than showing compassion.

What is most disturbing is the timing of the overtures to Mike London. He was reportedly approached before Paterno was fired!

What does that tell us about the jock culture at State College, PA?  The school seemed more concerned with lining up a replacement before pulling the plug on its long-time coach.  Can you imagine?  God forbid the lack of a respected replacement could impact recruiting.

It is apparent Penn State still doesn’t get it.

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11-11-11: Veterans’ Day

It was a blustery, chilly day in DC. Not much happening here on this Veteran Day’s holiday, at least not outside. The National Mall was largely empty.  Tourists did not linger outside for long.  They went straight from their tour buses into the warmth of the Smithsonian’s museums.

The National Mall looked bleak on this cold day, but the weather did not stop these kids from enjoying the open space across from the National Gallery of Art.

It seems that Veterans’ Day is downplayed.  Is it because it falls in the shadow of the Christmas rush?

Pentagon City Mall appeared all too ready for Christmas.  You would think the shopping center could have devoted some space to an exhibit to honor our veterans.

Veterans’ Day looks more like Christmas at Pentagon City Mall.

When we think of veterans, the name of Benedict Arnold does not come to mind.

However, before he betrayed his country, General Arnold was one of the Americans’ most competent field officers.  His actions in 1776 saved the Continental Army’s northern command from disaster; his bravery and leadership won the Battle of Saratoga in October of 1777, although credit was given to the senior officer present Horatio Gates.

The victory led to France’s recognition of the American cause.  It was a key turning point without which the Revolution would probably have failed.

We can thank Arnold for that much.

General Benedict Arnold portrayed in Colonial Williamsburg while in command of British troops in Virginia.

Fall is winding down in the region, although colors are still hanging on in Richmond.

Bright red foliage frames an arch at the University of Richmond.

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