Monday, August 31, 2009

How The Right-Wing Lost Me

I was born and raised in Orange County, Calif., the hotbed of right-wing political conservatism. As a young reporter on The Tustin News I met and admired James. B. Utt, my congressman and probably the most conservative Republican to ever walk the halls of the House of Representatives. The closest clone to Utt in today's Congress would be Ron Paul.

But Utt was a flaming liberal compared to the ultra wing-nuts in Orange County where the John Birch Society flourished and the House Un-American Activities Committee was their surrogate God. It was the age of a Red Under Every Bed and Better Be Dead Than Red. The Republican Party was so strong in the early 1960s in that county that no self-respecting Democrat stood a chance at being elected dog catcher if that would have been a partisan post. That is why I started my voting career as a registered Republican.

I've changed political direction over the years but never gave much attention why until the answers appeared before my very eyes this morning.

The moral grounds of Republican conservatism shifted from preserving the social order championed by William F. Buckley Jr. to destroying what they perceive as the enemy in a politics of "grievance and resentment."

As the U.S. was mired in the Vietnam war in 1968, President Johnson decided he would not seek reelection, a move Buckley opposed because he understood the importance of stability and found the "burn, baby, burn" drumbeat from the left, which had forced Johnson's decision, deeply unsettling.

Buckley believed that "instant guidance by the people of the government means instability, and instability is subversive of freedom." In other words, Johnson's withdrawal was too responsive. For Buckley, maintaining social order was of paramount importance, even if it meant helping to preserve the welfare state he deplored.

Compare Buckley's circumspect opinion with that of the most vocal conservative in 2009, the "I hope Obama fails" rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh who is more reminiscent of the tantrum-throwing far left of the late 1960s than of classic conservatism.

My source for this analysis comes from an article in today's Los Angeles Times reviewing a book published by Sam Tanenhaus, book review editor at the New York Times. Tanenhaus, Buckley's biographer, explores the right's shift from old-school classic conservatism to the revolutionary "movement conservatism" of today. He ponders one of the great political paradoxes of our times: How did a political ideology once devoted to "conserving" the past and balancing stability and progress become an ideology of insurrection?

The short answer, of course, is that conservatism has been betrayed, that what we today call conservatism -- a politics of "grievance and resentment" -- isn't.

The article refers to a 1954 essay on "pseudo-conservatives" written by historian Richard Hofstadter:

Americans suffer from "status anxiety." During times of great social flux, these fears play out in politics as people seek out enemies (which helps them reaffirm their own standing) and, at the same time, damn a social order they feel they can't dominate.

It's not a stretch to say that the election of the first black president, as well as the deep economic recession, have challenged Americans' sense of self. That a resulting status anxiety would play itself out on the right more than the left may have to do with the right's general discomfort with the kind of collective identities -- unions, ethnics, gender -- that the left tends to embrace. Instead of finding affiliations to secure their status, the right's "rugged individualists" get mired in the type of anomie that in turn increases the need to reaffirm one's place in a topsy-turvy world.

The personal, deeply vituperative tone of the debate over healthcare reform seems to suggest that Americans' anger is not just about whether a "public option" is part of a reform package. The fear is less about encroaching socialism than it is about getting lost and forgotten in a rapidly changing society. Change isn't slowing down, and the bad news is that these feelings of losing control are not likely to go away any time soon.

Leave it to Paul Krugman, the liberal economist writing for the New York Times, to stick a dagger in the Republicans' defiant stand against healthcare reform. In his column today, Krugman notes that President Nixon offered a healthcare program probably far superior to what the Democrats are developing now in Congress. It died because Sen. Ted Kennedy opposed it, a decision he said later he regretted.

Nixon proposed requiring that all employers, not just large companies, offer insurance. He also embraced tighter regulation of insurers, calling on states to “approve specific plans, oversee rates, ensure adequate disclosure, require an annual audit and take other appropriate measures.” No illusions there about how the magic of the marketplace solves all problems, Krugman darkly notes. Asks Krugman: How a Republican president could sound so nonideological, and offer such a reasonable proposal?

Part of the answer is that the right-wing fringe, which has always been around — as an article by the historian Rick Perlstein puts it, “crazy is a pre-existing condition” — has now, in effect, taken over one of our two major parties. Moderate Republicans, the sort of people with whom one might have been able to negotiate a health care deal, have either been driven out of the party or intimidated into silence. Whom are Democrats supposed to reach out to, when Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was supposed to be the linchpin of any deal, helped feed the “death panel” lies?

But there’s another reason health care reform is much harder now than it would have been under Nixon: the vast expansion of corporate influence.

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become extremely difficult. That’s especially true for health care, where growing spending has made the vested interests far more powerful than they were in Nixon’s day. The health insurance industry, in particular, saw its premiums go from 1.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1970 to 5.5 percent in 2007, so that a once minor player has become a political behemoth, one that is currently spending $1.4 million a day lobbying Congress.

For the record, I am not enamored by the far left crazies on the Democratic side of the spectrum. Sometimes one has to choose the lesser of two evils. I feel the Republican Party has been hijacked by the far right loonies and rendered it impotent, more so than in the old days in Orange County where the Birchers tried and failed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Search Of A Statesman

As the nation pays its final respect for the life and times of Sen. Edward Kennedy it has become clear to me we will never again see a politician of his stature grace the halls of Congress. That is sad.

What struck me was the litany of friends and foes alike who all agreed on one basic principle: Ted Kennedy was a man of his word. He was passionate in his beliefs even though many disagreed. He was an engaging politician with that booming voice and Irish wit who could charm the pants off his fiercest opponent. And, he could compromise on a piece of legislation with full knowledge he could improve it sometime down the road.

I look at the Senate roster and fail to see any Republican or Democrat who can stand up with the national recognition, charisma, intelligence and political skills to pull off what Kennedy achieved in his 46 years representing the state of Massachusetts.

The closest Republican could be Orrin Hatch of Utah. He lacks the charisma that could rally a nation. John McCain of Arizona may try on his principles but they were rejected by voters in his 2008 presidential bid. The Democrats have John Kerry, until now the junior senator from Massachusetts, but his legislative accomplishments are nondescript and his waffling during his 2004 campaign for president probably has doomed him for good.

Despite the baggage Ted Kennedy carried behind him -- Chappaquiddick, his drinking, the assassination of older brothers Jack and Bobby Kennedy (in the minds of some conservatives at the time) -- he had the luxury of knowing he would always be reelected. He was seriously challenged for his senate seat only twice and the Kennedy family political machine saw to it he would win.

Not many politicians have such a luxury. Along with his family's financial fortunes, it allowed him to pursue his causes without worry over offending campaign contributors.

And there lies the root curse of almost all House of Representatives and many senators. They become obsessed with getting reelected as their highest priority and turn timid to promote their own causes for their constituents as was the case with Ted Kennedy.

The most sterling example is Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who began his career as a Democrat, switched to Republican and this year switched back to the Democratic Party when he realized he couldn't win the state's Republican senatorial primary next year. Both his Democratic and Republican office seekers claim Specter's causes blow to the political winds. That's an albatross Specter must live with despite his pleas of indignation.

Nowadays, when a member of congress or senate speaks his/her mind, you know for a certainty he/she comes from a safe gerrymandered district or state. It is why we hear an obscure congressman from Northern California tell a self-described patriotic terrorist he is a true American. It is why Barney Frank can sarcastically ask a constituent from what planet does she reside.

None of these people will reach the stature of Ted Kennedy.

"In the smaller confines of the Senate, people can detect a phony, so the fact they were really were his convictions gave him a zone of grace," says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

The nation also must rue the day for statesmen leading us out of the wilderness of indecision. The John Adams followed by Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Hiram Johnson, Henry Cabot Lodge, Everett Dirkson -- all in their time whether right or wrong shaped the future of our nation.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The NFL Does A Sandlot Do Over

Remember those kid sandlot games we played where the oak tree was the goal line on one side of the field and the public restroom the goal line on the other. The sidelines were marked by Fatso's dad's Chevy on one side and Jimmy's mom's lawn chair on the other. Any disputes over the mock gridiron's imaginary chalk lines were settled with a do over.

Folks, welcome to the National Football League, the most popular sports league in the country, home of the sparkling, new billion-dollar stadium of the Dallas Cowboys that owner Jerry Jones begged, borrowed and built. Among its features is a $30 million high def scoreboard. The giant TV screens are 160 feet long and hang 90 feet above midfield.

It seems the geniuses who designed the stadium neglected to factor in a tiny detail -- the trajectory of a football lofted mightily in the air by a punter. It happened in the first exhibition (the NFL insists we call it a preseason) game when Tennessee Titan punter A.J. Trapasso punted and the ball bounced off those pretty pixels on the midfield TV screen.

Not to worry, NFL commissioner Roger Goodall announced today. We'll do a do over. Under most circumstances, when the ball strikes the screen, the play is dead and will be replayed.

The first thing that came to my mind is what happens when a punter deliberately strikes the TV screen on coach's orders on three or four consecutive punts. Can the refs throw the yellow flag for delay of game? Welcome to high tech football played with sandlot rules.

The commissioner's ruling was greeted with these comments from football fans:

NOOOOOOO... that is BS... horrible choice by the league... How can a video board become a possible game changing obstacle

That's a surprise. Guess the NFL didn't want to foot the bill to move it.

Funny stuff. Hard to believe that a billion dollar operation like the Cowboys could screw something like this up so badly.

Dumbest idea ever, this isn't backyard football!!

What's to stop a QB from intentionally throwing at the scoreboard to get a "do over"?

You have got to be kidding! I guess Jones has the stones in the NFL. Can you imagine the Commish bending over and kissing ass for Cleveland or Detroit?

What idiots. Can't wait to see a super bowl decided by this.

Hahaha.....I think that everyone forgot how much pull Jerry has, he gets what he wants because like it or not the Cowboys generate more revenue than 90% of the other teams in the NFL, period. End of story.

Is Goodell crazy? This is insane. I hope every punter in the league who plays in that stadium hits that scoreboard every time. Keep doing it over and over and over delaying the game until people watching on TV change the channel. I know my boy Shane Lectler will have no problem hitting it anytime he wants to. Hit it, then do over. Hit it, then do over. Hit it, then do over. All in consecutive punts. Eventually, the NFL will wake up and raise the scoreboard.

What brought a chuckle to my lips are those who believe only the government can screw things up such as administering the cars for clunkers program. It happens to the best of us, it seems.

Meanwhile, inside the huddle, I tell Fatso to hold his block and give me time to throw deep to Jimmy at the oak tree.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

We Are A Culture Of Liars

Believe me when I tell you I am writing a column about a review by Jessica Bennett of Newsweek about psychologist Robert Feldman, the author of a new book, The Liar in Your Life, the inspiration for a new film, The Invention of Lying, as well as a Fox TV series Lie To Me.

We are a nation of liars, Feldman is quoted. Writes Bennett:

Time and time again, public-opinion polls show that honesty is among the top five characteristics we want in a leader, friend, or lover; the world is full of woeful stories about the tragic consequences of betrayal. At the same time, deception is all around us. We are lied to by government officials and public figures to a disturbing degree; many of our social relationships are based on little white lies we tell each other. We deceive our children, only to be deceived by them in return. And the average person, says psychologist Robert Feldman, the author of a new book on lying, tells at least three lies in the first 10 minutes of a conversation. "There's always been a lot of lying," says Feldman, whose book came out this month. "But I do think we're seeing a kind of cultural shift where we're lying more, it's easier to lie, and in some ways it's almost more acceptable."

This path of fabrications starts at the top. Among the great whoppers of our time is President Clinton claiming he never had sex with that woman. The cigarette manufacturing executives telling Congress they were unaware nicotine was addictive. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina telling aids he was walking the Appalachian Trail when he jetted to Argentina for a liaison with his Latina lover. The list is endless (which I don't think is a lie).

Actually, it is a cultural trickle-down epidemic, writes Bennett:

We are a culture of liars, to put it bluntly, with deceit so deeply ingrained in our psyches that we hardly even notice we're engaging in it. Spam e-mail, deceptive advertising, the everyday pleasantries we don't really mean—"It's so great to meet you!" "I love that dress"—have, as Feldman puts it, become "an omnipresent white noise we've learned to tune out."

And Feldman also argues that cheating is more common today than ever. The Josephson Institute, a nonprofit focused on youth ethics, concluded in a 2008 survey of nearly 30,000 high school students that "cheating in school continues to be rampant, and it's getting worse." In that survey, 64 percent of students said they'd cheated on a test during the past year, up from 60 percent in 2006. Another recent survey, by Junior Achievement, revealed that more than a third of teens believe lying, cheating, or plagiarizing can be necessary to succeed, while a brand-new study, commissioned by the publishers of Feldman's book, shows that 18- to 34-year-olds—those of us fully reared in this lying culture—deceive more frequently than the general population.

When I was a child we learned by the second grade that George Washington never lied and confessed to his parents he chopped down the cherry tree. He was rewarded for his honesty. That parable and those we read in "the good book" were suppose to be the foundations of our lives.

I was a good disciple. I told a visiting aunt she had graying hair. Oops. How quickly one learns to become more discreet. By the time I married, I would cringe when my wife asked if her fanny was too big for the pair of slacks she was modeling. I tried humor, asking if that was a trick question. And, so, those little white lies grow.

Of course, the mean streak in me defaults to truth mode. Clerks who cheerfully bid "Have a nice day" are rebutted by "Easy for you to say." Old folks who can only talk about the weather proclaim what a beautiful day it is are rejoined by "too damned hot." I take great delight turning inane greetings literally.

Says Bennett:

Liars get what they want. They avoid punishment, and they win others' affection. Liars make themselves sound smart and savvy, they attain power over those of us who believe them, and they often use their lies to rise up in the professional world. Many liars have fun doing it. And many more take pride in getting away with it.

As Feldman notes, there is an evolutionary basis for deception: in the wild, animals use deception to "play dead" when threatened. But in the modern world, the motives of our lying are more selfish. Research has linked socially successful people to those who are good liars. Students who succeed academically get picked for the best colleges, despite the fact that, as one recent Duke University study found, as many as 90 percent of high-schoolers admit to cheating. Even lying adolescents are more popular among their peers.

How can you tell someone is lying? By studying facial expressions, the split-second eyebrow arch that shows surprise when a spouse asks who was on the phone; the furrowed nose that gives away a hint of disgust when a person says "I love you." Once you learn that, the experts say, try to prove it.

I cannot sit here and tell you I have never lied. Usually they unthinkingly jump right out of my mouth in a reflex of self-preservation, usually to disguise embarrassment.

Back in the second grade, my parents told me not to take the bus home after school because neither would be home until early evening. I was to walk to the principal's home and stay until they came to pick me up. I forgot and took the school bus. Risking embarrassment, I decided to depart the bus at our stop, walked to the ranch superintendent's home and asked him to drive me to the principal's house which was near a home he often visited.

I lied to the principal that when he went looking for me I must have been in the restroom. I lied to my parents why it took me so long to reach the principal's home.

"You took the bus, didn't you?" my mother who knew everything asked.

"No," I mumbled.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Love/Hate Obits of Ted Kennedy

The real journalists in America, those who record the first chapter in the books of history, are challenged writing obituaries of our fallen leaders when the person's life is filled with complexities, contradictions and accomplishments such as that of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Citizen journalists, those who write blogs, are not constraint by such niceties. They call it as they see it. They come straight to the point. The guy was flawed. The guy was a hero. Etc. A classic example is The Moderate Voice's esteemed columnist and assistant editor Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes who writes a poignant dark aspect of Kennedy's life that drew some 30 comments from readers within hours after her posting.

Old journalistic practices have fallen by the wayside in today's instant news markets. No longer does one wait at least until the person is buried before the dirty laundry is aired. In the case of Kennedy, who matured and graduated to the most skilled advocate of his causes in the Senate during his 47-year career, speculation was immediate who would replace him.

But, old practices and customs do not die rapidly. We see that from the eulogies spoken by friends and foes alike, just as in the old days. Some examples:

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona:

My friend, Ted Kennedy, was famous before he was accomplished.
But by the end of his life he had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved and in the affections of its members. He grew up in the long shadow of his brothers, but found a way to be useful to his country in ways that will outlast their accomplishments.

Many of his fellow senators, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, will note today that Ted was sincerely intent on finding enough common ground among us to make progress on the issues of our day, and toward that end he would work as hard and as modestly as any staffer. Many will recall his convivial nature, his humor, his thoughtfulness. We will praise as his greatest strength the integrity of his word. When he made a promise to you, he kept it, no matter what.

What is harder for us to express is the emptiness we will feel in the Senate in his absence. Even when we are all crowded in the chamber for a vote, engaged in dozens of separate conversations, it will seem a quiet and less interesting place, in the knowledge that his booming voice, fueled by his passion for his convictions, will never encourage or assail or impress us again.

I will miss him very much.


Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York:

Ted Kennedy was a mentor, a guiding light, and a close friend — we all loved the man. In the Senate, Ted Kennedy was our sun –- the center of our universe. To be pulled by his strong gravitational field, to bask in his warmth was a privilege, an honor, and, for many of us, even a life changing experience. His death leaves our world dark but, as he said in his own words, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” Ted, we will not let your flag fall.


In the days leading up to the end of his terminal battle with brain cancer, politics, being the cold-hearted beast that it is, raised its ugly head with critics speculating the absence of Kennedy represented a moral hole in the Democrats push to reform our nation's health care system.

Now that the 77-year-old Lion of the Senate is gone, the speculation has shifted to a rallying cry from the liberal Democrats to win one for Teddy. This leads us to the loudest mouth from the conservative ranks, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Here is part of a story filed by ABC's Sarah Tobianski:

On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh had some harsh words for Democrats reacting to Senator Kennedy's death today. Limbaugh argued that if the Democrats are able to pass a so-called "rationed" health care plan in Kennedy's memory, it would be "hypocrisy and "insulting."

"Ted Kennedy did not use any aspect of that health care legislation to try to survive," Limbaugh said. "It would be an insult to the memory of Ted Kennedy to put his name on a bill that has rationed health care based on someone's age and the extent of their illness."

Limbaugh said that he is probably right in his earlier prediction that Democrats will use Kennedy's death as a "pawn" to push through their health care agenda.

"The Left is exploiting him – his death and his legacy – and they are going to do it, as predicted, to push health care through," Limbaugh said...

Limbaugh said he was cracking up this morning on the mainstream media's coverage of Kennedy's passing and said that his listeners are frustrated over the "slobbering" media.

"No matter where you watch television today – even if you turn on FOX – you are going to get the syrupy - everything they say is going to be predictable: let's put aside our differences for today and respect the great work and achievements of Sen. Kennedy," Limbaugh said. " I am going to vomit and puke all over everyone with this analysis today."

Limbaugh said he took the greatest insult to Chris Matthew's words on the Today Show this morning, where Matthews said Sen. Kennedy handed the "ball over" to President Obama, calling the President "the last Kennedy brother." He said the media is more concerned about keeping Camelot alive.

"The media, they are not concerned the Kennedy's gone but, oh no, where do we go next to Lion-ize the next Kennedy?" Limbaugh said.

The greatest tribute to Kennedy, Limbaugh said, would be for all Americans to get the same health care that Kennedy received in his final days.

Am I reading this right? It is unclear to me what he's talking about in terms of rationed care. Yet, Limbaugh wants all Americans to receive the same health care privileges as Senator Kennedy. You mean Rush is in favor of reform, after all the slings and arrows he's tossed at the Democrats?

If that's true, Kennedy did not live his life in vain.

After all, if it takes the death of a passionate advocate to change the world as we know it, than may his soul reach eternity and absolve all the demons that tagged behind.

Of all the statements I have read today, this one epitomizes the tribute to one small aspect of Kennedy's life:

Nancy Reagan, wife of former President Ronald Reagan:

Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. But Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another. In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him.

Edward M. Kennedy, may you rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Little League Is Awesome, Despite The Hype

As I write this, Chula Vista, Calif., is about to play San Antonio in a preliminary round of undefeated teams in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Penn. The Chula Vista all-star team is the equivalent of the 1927 Yankees. They slugged 46 home runs in their last eight games and shutout their first two World Series opponents 29-0.

Sally Jenkins, the renowned sports columnist for The Washington Post, is not impressed. While she admires the talent of the Park View team from Southern California, she abhors the national spotlight on the youngsters in a system she says "has badly confused teaching kids to be good ballplayers with teaching them to be good people."

Jenkins offers two flaws, one at the players; the other at Little League rules. The kids copy cat their Major League heroes by spitting, scratching and grandstanding. She blames ESPN and ABC which televise the series as the main enablers.

The league's 85-pitch rule is too high, citing orthopedic surgeon James Andrews' description of an "epidemic" of arm and shoulder injuries to young ballplayers. "Andrews has been keeping tabs: in 2001 and 2002 he performed a total of just 13 shoulder operations on teenagers. Over the next six years, he did 241," Jenkins writes.

Let me offer a counterpoint.

I played youth baseball and the great thrill, the great goal was following in the footsteps of my heroes of which I read in the newspaper from stories and box scores and the few limited newsreels in the movie theaters. Much of the glory was verbal, passed on to us kids from radio voices such as Bob Kelly announcing Los Angeles Angels games in the old Pacific Coast League and I am certain from Red Barber announcing Dodger games in Brooklyn. If I spit too often, I had to.

I was smitten by the gods of baseball. The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's magazines carried full-page ads of Whitey Ford proclaiming he would walk a mile for a Camel cigarette. So, I began smoking cigarettes at age 13 even though it didn't improve my curve ball.

There were no 85-pitch rules in my day. Coaches instructed how to throw a curve ball. One former minor league pitcher coaching part-time at my high school tried to teach me how to throw both a knuckle ball and a split-fingered fast ball. My fingers and hands were too small, so we nixed that idea. But, I threw hard and often, never once feeling pain in my right arm or elbow. That injury occurred between my senior year in high school and college when I dislocated my right shoulder spiking a beach volleyball. It ended my baseball career.

Although not as critical as it is in playing football, baseball is a team sport and you learn quickly to back up your teammates on any given play. Baseball teaches you a little about life, anticipating what you will do if the ball comes to you depending on the number of base runners, how many outs and what inning and score it is.

Little League requires every player to be in the game for at least one inning and it instills a sense of sportsmanship win or lose. Crying is okay. That's the essence of the game and what happens to the players after they grow into maturity is not the flaws as Jenkins sees them by blaming Little League as an organization.

Every year at Little League World Series time I am incredibly impressed by the athletic skills of these 11, 12 and 13-year-olds from around the world. How they handle the immense emotional pressure to excel is just short of amazing.

If that was me on the mound or playing right field, I probably would pee in my pants.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two Rival States Duke It Out

At least one California legislator has retaliated with a popgun attack against Nevada's million dollar ad campaign to lure Golden State businesses to the Silver State.

What started as a tongue-in-cheek snarky campaign by Nevada which has inundated the major California markets via cable television advertising the past two weeks is now being greeted by Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) who told The Los Angeles Times:

"It's one thing to compare states in a factual way, but when you're doing nasty ads veiled in humor which dehumanize Californians, that's over the top."

The Nevada spots compare California legislators to monkeys, portraying two apples in which one representing California turns rotten because of its high taxes, and a pretty blonde lady who extols the virtues of California but by the ad's ending, she turns into a pig wearing lipstick.

Taking undisclosed funds from his campaign committee treasury, Solorio launched his own multi-media blitz proclaiming "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in California makes the world go 'round."

The spots will show up on newspaper websites, Google ad sites, Facebook and e-mails, as well as on cable channels in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Reno, Solorio said.

Said A. Somer Hollingsworth, chief executive of the Nevada Development Authority: "I understand what they're going through, and I expected something like this. I'm not offended -- it's a good response."

Both states are suffering severe economic setbacks because of the recession. Gambling revenues in Nevada are down dramatically which pay for public services in a state with no personal income tax.

Touting California's massive consumer base, sunny weather and progressive entrepreneurial culture, Solorio said California's budget and tax problems and strict regulations should not be deal breakers for businesses.

Rivalry between California and its neighboring states is nothing novel. Years ago, Oregon posted signs on its highways near the California border welcoming visitors but asking them please don't move in.

School Bus Cuts Face Safety Concerns

I live across the street from Chaparral High School in Temecula, Calif., and every school morning and afternoon dozens of yellow school buses roll in and out of the campus's sprawling parking lot. Temecula is a semi-rural area 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles and its boundaries extend miles in all directions.

As most school districts, Temecula offers bus transportation to students living outside a determined radius, usually 1.5 miles, and by law for all handicapped and special education pupils. It was during last year's peak price of gasoline and diesel averaging more than $4 per gallon that I began wondering how in tarnation can these districts afford what I considered a luxury.

Well, gasoline prices dropped but the nation was discovering it was in a recession resulting in a revolting loss of tax revenues, a large portion of which goes to finance school districts, and, by extension, school bus transportation.

I am a product of rural America, raised on a farm two and one-half miles from San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, Calif., and yes, the yellow school bus picked up and returned us farm boys from elementary and high school. If we missed the bus, we walked. Our fathers told us the same blarney we've all heard: "When I was your age, we walked five miles in snow to school back in Illinois."

So, it comes as no big surprise that school bus transportation is getting the ax in almost every state in our nation. In California, school transportation funding was reduced by 20% in the last budget signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some districts are adjusting led by the Elk Grove district in Sacramento County in which parents, school, administrators and local transportation officials adopted a program that dropped 3,800 students from busing while improving safe walking and bicycling hazards on designated school routes. The district saved $3 million from its $10 million transportation budget.

Cutting school bus transportation may seem easy but it isn't. There's a safety factor, especially for elementary and middle school children, to consider. It poses a hardship on working parents who must find ways to deliver their kids to school on schedule.

Although I think his argument is bogus, Richard Odegaard, Elk Grove's associate superintendent, said school officials are concerned about cutting too much. They fear deeper reductions could mean fewer children attending school, translating into less money schools receive for average daily attendance, or ADA. "If we were to cut home-to-school transportation and we lost three-quarters of a percent of ADA, we would lose the value of cutting transportation," Odegaard said.

The safety issue cannot be underestimated because each year hundreds of students are killed walking or bicycling to and from school. Reports the Bikes Belong Coalition:

Cutting bus routes without a simultaneous and planned effort to address student safety concerns will likely lead to greater traffic congestion, poorer air quality, and higher parent transportation costs due to an increase in parents driving children to school. It is essential that school districts collaborate with parents and city officials to make it safer for children to walk and bicycle, particularly when cuts to school bus services are being proposed.

Here are some of the efforts taken by states reported on the Bikes Belong Coalition website:

• The state of Florida provides funding to local school districts to help underwrite the cost of busing children who live close to school but cannot walk or bicycle due to unsafe conditions. State law links the availability of this funding to a plan to fix the hazard. School boards that request hazard bus funding must work with the appropriate state or local governmental agencies to correct the hazard within a reasonable time.

• The state of Illinois reimburses schools for hazard busing when children live less than 1.5 miles to school, but the route is determined to be unsafe for children walking and bicycling. Costs for hazard busing have increased 67% in seven years, and the number of students enrolled in hazard busing is increasing 1.2% per year even while student enrollment is dropping. Illinois House Bill 3202, the Hazardous Busing Mitigation Act, would allow school districts to use a portion of their hazard busing reimbursement from the state to repair the hazards, allowing children to walk and bicycle and allowing the school to reduce busing costs.

• Washington state legislation requires that each elementary school develop suggested route plans identifying the safest routes for children walking and bicycling. The state provides a guidebook to help school administrators develop the school walk routes and work with public works officials to remedy deficiencies.

About 23 percent of school districts surveyed by the American Association of School Administrators say they are reducing or eliminating school transportation for the coming school year as part of cost-cutting measures. That's up from the 14 percent who considered such measures during the 2008-2009 year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's More Than $2 Jack, And That's A Fact

If you thought seniors fighting phantom cuts in their Medicare benefits at those town hall meetings were angry, wait until the first of the year when it dawns on all of them they're getting no cost of living increase for the next two years. In fact, six million of Social Security's 50 million recipients will suffer a pay cut and all will pay more for drugs.

I say "phantom" cuts because all of the health reform proposals in Congress are no where near being enacted into law. In stead, it has been a propaganda war between special interests in the health industry and opposing political parties in which the dominant argument is stupidly focused on creation of government "death squads" to euthanize the elderly. Fostering fear is the Obama administration's proposal to cut billions of dollars in Medicare costs as "savings" without spelling out where these cuts will occur. Some seniors translate that as cuts in their benefits.

January 1, 2010, will be the first time since 1975 Social Security beneficiaries will not receive a cost of living (COLA) adjustment. By law, the government cannot decrease benefits. In the past, COLA increases oftentimes were offset by increases in Medicare Part B medical premiums deducted from Social Security checks. The result was seniors annually falling behind because of the spiraling rise in medical bills outdistancing less inflationary sectors of the economy.

However, the law does not prevent the increase in premiums for Medicare Part D drug subsidies.

There are about six million seniors whose Medicare Part D drug subsidy program is also deducted from their Social Security checks. It is these who would face an average increase of $2 per month from their current $28/mo drug premiums although the amount varies by plan and the private insurance carrier administering the program for the federal government.

On the surface, this doesn't appear to be a big deal. But it is to both seniors and the nation's taxpayers.

Estimates vary but the consensus is about 25% of the 50 million seniors live in retirement with fixed income totally reliant upon their Social Security checks which average nationally at about $1,150/mo. The remaining 75% have seen their retirement and pension plans reduced by at least half because of the recession. Unless you live in your own mortgage-free home, there's not much playing around money for any of them.

For the government, increasing Medicare premiums excluding Part D without a compensating COLA is forbidden by law. That means the government would absorb billions of more dollars annually adding to the trillion dollar deficit to make up the difference in which the premium increase would have covered.

I can only address the situation from the perspective of a single person living solely on Social Security and meeting eligibility standards for Medi-Caid and rental assistance through the Housing and Urban Development agency.

Medi-Cal is broke and no longer pays my $96/mo Medicare premium. The government subsidizes Health Net to pick up all medical expenses. I pay a nominal $3.10 for each 30-day drug prescription. Every year Health Net changes the rules of what it will and will not cover. I'm a slave to their whims and am waiting with anticipation of what roadblock they will set for 2010. Last year it was no reimbursement for hospital costs. This year hospitalization was covered but should I need an ambulance to get there I had to pay $50.

Already, the Riverside (California) Housing Authority which administers HUD's rental assistance program notified me that beginning Oct. 1 I had to pay $50/mo. more for my apartment rent. I suppose that will make a major difference in HUD's $18.2 billion budget helping two million families in 2010.

So, when you hear us gray panthers (we no longer are gender biased) roar, it's more than a measly $2 increase in our drug premiums. It is more like being nickled and dimed to death.


Associated Press

Politics & Poppycock

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Get A Life, America

Believe me when I tell you how hard I gritted my teeth and refrained from commenting on the clucking chatter of First Lady Michelle Obama stepping off Air Force One wearing short shorts in 108-degree temperature on a visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

"Smart, lady," I say to myself. "Very practical."

But, nooo. Her critics among the fashion police piously complained she was showing too much leg for a First Lady. Her fans -- myself included but who, for one, remained mum until now -- countered the Puritanical outrage with "Get A Life!" I mean, we're talking about Michelle Obama, not Britney Spears.

What catapulted me into the circus circulating the gossip of what a First Lady should wear in public is an article written by Robin Givhan in today's Washington Post. I confess Givhan knows more about women's fashion than me because, frankly, my dear, I really don't given a damn unless Michelle experiences a wardrobe malfunction as did Janet Jackson during a Super Bowl halftime show. Writes Givhan:

The noteworthy aspect of Obama's ensemble is that in recent history, first ladies have rarely dressed so informally in public, particularly as they are emerging from Air Force One while a phalanx of photographers stands ready to record the moment.

My God, I would hope so. Can you imagine Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan or even Hillary Clinton in shorts? You may ask, what about Jackie Kennedy? I would say women in Camelot would never dare.

Continues Givhan:

The image of Obama in her shorts was strikingly modern. And for a long time, modern was not a word typically associated with the role of first lady. The women who have most recently occupied that nebulous position often seemed terribly constrained by its traditions, by the contradictory demands of the public, by the desire to do the nation proud and by the need to live a fulfilling and authentic life. Balancing all that is impossible, and so these women have cherry-picked some things that are inviolable and gone on from there. The public has been free to applaud or criticize each woman's choices. The resulting analysis has had first ladies declared, among other things: elitist, dowdy and tragic victims of chauvinism.

Can't argue with that. No sooner than I was prepared to honor Givhan for her forthrightness, she says:

Avoiding the appearance of queenly behavior is politically wise. But it does American culture no favors if a first lady tries so hard to be average that she winds up looking common.

Oh, come on Givhan and anyone else who predisposes our First Ladies are royalty.

It's not Michelle's fault she was born in a lower income middle class family, earned a law degree and managed a large hospital. She should be accepted for whom she is: a brilliant mind, a terrific mother, loyal wife and, as they say, comfortable in her own skin. Being First Lady is just desserts and she can wear any outfit she deems appropriate.

However, Givhan nailed it when she observes:

This exclusive group of women might have dressed in a relaxed manner -- khakis or jeans, for instance -- but it was always in a way that suggested that they were keenly aware of the ever-present cameras. None of them revealed as much leg as the current first lady, either -- a fact that has been duly noted on the Internet by a nation that gets more squeamish about an artfully photographed nude than it does over a naked body lying in a pool of fake blood on an episode of "Law & Order."

Let me join the chorus: Come on America, get a life!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Fine Art Of Corrections

One of the great things working for newspapers for so many years is the corrections we needed to print. Some editors were more sensitive to the process than others. A few were impervious to the point of neglecting their responsibility until the filing of a law suit.

Some may recall the recent plight of The New York Times when its ombudsman corrected a story written by the paper's TV critic who committed seven errors in the Walter Cronkite obituary.

But, the Los Angeles Times, plagued by recent staff cutbacks and a dearth of copy editors, has taken the correction business to a new level. And, I quote:

Thank goodness The Times is the forthright, ethical institution that it is.

And when a mistake happens, it rushes to set the journalistic record straight with an honest repair.

Here is an actual correction from Page A4 of today's print edition:


TV listings: The Prime-Time TV grid in Thursday's Calendar section mistakenly listed MTV's "Jackass" show on the MSNBC cable schedule at 7 and 10 p.m. where instead MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" should have been listed.

It's not the Worst Mistake in the World.

But without this kind of correction, online too, a few thousand people might have tuned into MSNBC, the Obama administration's favorite cable channel, expecting to see a "Jackass" show, and instead they'd have found Olbermann.

Worse, what if nobody noticed the difference?

-- Andrew Malcolm

Over the years -- even as recently as yesterday when I offered up a new first name (Harry) for West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd -- I have made hundreds. Some were simple typographical errors. Two in particular were real doozies and both where I committed the same crime.

In one, from a police report I jailed the good guy who defended himself from an attacker rather than the other way around.

The other needs some explanation. A young woman walked into the Santa Ana Register where I worked and requested a retraction from a paid classified ad. The ad recorded her father's funeral services but when the family viewed the casket, the body was not her father. Helluva human interest story, I declared. It was an old friend of her father's from Mexico who for years fraudulently used the guy's identification. I wrote the story one day. The next day I wrote the correction because I got the names reversed. Man, that was confusing AND embarrassing.

The Register in the late 1950s was notorious for allowing its editorial judgment get in the way of facts. It once wrote a retraction over a story about Dr. Edwin Teller, one of the principles in the development of the atomic bomb. The retraction was so laced with more inaccuracies that Teller's attorneys forced a second retraction of the first retraction.

When I worked for the San Diego Evening Tribune, it would not be unusual for a few people to call and demand a retraction of a story they deemed unfair and one-sided. The usual spiel was the caller said he lived in La Jolla where our publisher Jim Copley (pronounced COP-ly) resided.

Once, a caller said he was a personal friend of Mr. COPE-ly. Leo Bowler, our assistant managing editor, after one of his famous three-martini luncheons, told the guy to do something anatomically impossible and slammed down the phone.

But, really, corrections are the right thing to do and it is a practice I wish bloggers would follow more assiduously than from what I have seen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Nonsense Of Over-The-Hill Superstars

I have been a sports fan all my life but concede in the twilight of my existence what once was fiery passion has turned to embers. I'm not really jaded, bored or turned off because of steroids or performance enhancing drugs.

No. What bothers me are the superstar athletes who don't know when to call it quits. I'm undecided whether it's the money or a severe ego problem. Probably a lot of both. Toss in the possibility they spent only minutes wondering what the devil they would do once forced into retirement.

In my youth, Johnny Unitas was my hero quarterback for the Baltimore Colts. His performance in that sudden death championship game against the New York Giants I will cherish to my grave. But to see his hunchback posture masquerading as a San Diego Charger was embarrassing, pathetic, in his final season.

Today it is Brett Favre, a sure-fire first ballot candidate for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Heading into his third decade in pro football, a sore arm, age and interceptions have plagued his legend. In one final shot at the Super Bowl, Favre will earn $6 million after he takes his first snap in his new Minnesota Vikings regular season game.

He could still do it for he is a marvelous athlete, knows the Vikings offensive scheme, is blessed with the best running back in the NFL, a great offensive line and the best rushing defense in the league. Fans in Green Bay where he set every offensive record that means anything, consider him a traitor for joining division conference rival Minnesota.

No, that doesn't bother me.

What does rattle my cage is his on-again, off-again "retirement" announcements that have become a joke. Two weeks ago he told the Vikings his orthopedic surgeon recommended the stretched tendons in his right throwing elbow were shot and he shouldn't play. He reported to camp Monday after a miracle recovery that just so happens coincides with the closing of training camp and two-a-day drills. He pulled the same thing with the New York Jets at the end of last year's training camp.

Favre has never displayed such fickleness on the field. Why doesn't he fess up and admit he's earned the right not to go to training camp. If his coach and owner agree to Favre's demands, why play this cat-and-mouse game. He's hurting himself and his new teammates by not being forthcoming.

Brett, cut the image crap and be a man.

That is the reason I consider Jim Brown the greatest running back of all time. He played nine spectacular seasons for the Cleveland Browns and "retired" when owner Art Modell was too cheap to grant him a massive pay raise and he opted to become a movie star in "The Dirty Dozen" and playing the love interest to Rachel Welch in a horrible western.

That is why I also admire Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale who were exploited by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both retired at the top of their careers. Koufax because his left arm might have had to be amputated if he continued pitching. Drysdale because of arm injuries, and, well, because he was Don Drysdale.

It must be said that Jim Brown, Koufax and Drysdale never made the millions athletes in today's market earn.

But the list of superstars clinging to the past of great careers is endless. The latest is John Smoltz, dropped by the Red Sox and now praying to make it as a St. Louis Cardinal.

Michael Jordan flirted with embarrassment in his final season with the Wizards.

Roger Clemens is accused of taking performance enhancing drugs to extend his magnificent career with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Even the proud and profane Nolan Ryan admits he should have retired a season before his final one.

I witnessed Luis Tiant, the hero of the Boston Red Sox in their losing effort to the Big Red Machine in the 1975 World Series, pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates five years later against the San Diego Padres. He was terrible, his once unhittable fastball now floating towards the plate at 69 mph on the radar gun. Bob Gibson, hobbled by a gimpy knee and old age, brought tears to my eyes in his final season with St. Louis. Same goes for Tom Seaver in his last season with the Chicago White Sox. Even Babe Ruth couldn't quit the game.

What is it these guys don't get? Quit embarrassing yourselves. Let us fans remember you the way you were in your prime. With the exception of a few such as Seaver who wanted to notch 300 wins in his career or reach specific sports milestones, the spectacle of their former selves is ridiculous but we still pay good money to watch them.

The thing is, their inductions into their sports halls of fame will still occur.

Oh, Those Tricky Massachusetts Democrats

When a political party stacks the deck in their favor, the cards they are dealt sometimes fall the wrong way. Such is the case of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) who has sent a letter to Massachusetts elected leaders seeking a change in the 2004 state succession law and allow his Senate seat to be filled rapidly.

Kennedy, who liberals love and is affectionately called the Lion of the Senate, is suffering from brain cancer and has missed most of this year's Senate sessions. The 2004 law was enacted for fear then Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican if Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry won that year's presidential election. The new law required a special election called within 145 days of the vacancy.

"I strongly support that law and the principle that the people should elect their senator," Kennedy wrote in the letter, dated July 2 but only sent to state officials this week. "I also believe it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election."

Kennedy, a champion of universal health care, suggested an interim replacement be named by the governor or state legislature on condition the person is not a candidate for the vacant seat in the special election.

Timing of Kennedy's letter does not reflect a worsening of his terminal brain cancer, his aids say. But it does reflect Kennedy's concerns for passage of a landmark health reform bill the Senate is expected to vote on this fall. The Senate has 60 elected Democrats which would assure passage if all were unanimous in their voting. However, Kennedy and Sen. Harry Byrd (D-West Virginia) have been chronically absent because of ill health. Democratic leaders fear the 40 Senate Republicans will vote a straight party line against any health reform legislation.

It seems to me Kennedy is asking his state to send a ringer to the Senate to be his stand-in surrogate vote. That's okay because most voters in Massachusetts would probably concur based on that state's track record.

But it sure smacks the democratic process with a black eye. It feels dirty. The person who is appointed as a lame duck would be a dupe for the Kennedy dynasty. Besides, during that 145-day interim the appointee would be voting on other critical legislation such as climate change. The appointee in effect would be doing what he is told by party leaders.

Just because Kennedy has served in the Senate for nearly a half century does not make him a god or kingmaker. But, don't blame good, old lovable Teddy.

Blame his state's Democratic leaders who changed the rules in their infinite wisdom to stick it to a rare Republican governor in that New England commonwealth. They changed the rules. Let them live by them.

Minnesota survived with only one senator for seven months.

(Author's Note: I was unable to find senate succession laws for West Virginia in the event Sen. Byrd dies in office. Sorry, mountaineers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Had A Dream

I had a dream. It took place in the White House. At the dining table was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sipping a glass of California sherry and nibbling on one of those dainty sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stared at his plate of fried zucinni and glass of iced tea. Vice President Joe Biden was telling stories of his youth in Scranton while talking with his mouth full of tuna salad. President Barack Obama was nursing a bottle of Perrier between bites of blueberry Yoplait yogurt.

Suddenly, the president slammed the dining table with his left fist and said "Screw it!" shaking the composure of the butler who had been standing at rigid attention.

"'Screw' what?" the vice president asked. "'Screw who?'" Pelosi asked with arched eyebrows. "'Screw' the pooch," Reid said. "Right, Mr. President?"

"Harry," the president said, "that's the first thing you got right in this whole process."

"What process?" Biden asked."

"This whole health reform debacle," Obama said. "Let's throw out everything and start from scratch." The president angrily tossed his copy of Newsweek onto the floor, the page open to Howard Fineman's column admonishing the administration for losing the health reform debate because they failed to make it simple.

"By God," the president said, raising his voice on one of those rare occasions. "We'll make it simple."

"What's your plan?" the vice president asked.

"Give something for everyone, including the Goddamn Republicans," Obama said in another rare occasion, this time taking the lord's name in vain.

President Obama laid out his plan -- in broad, sweeping parameters, of course.

"Extend Medicare to cover everyone," Obama said.

"Yippee!" shouted Pelosi.

"But make it voluntary," the president said.

"Brilliant!" Biden chirped.

"How do we pay for it?" the Senate leader asked.

"First of all," Obama said, "we need to adjust the Medicare premiums in which seniors now pay $96 a month deducted from their Social Security checks. Rather, we will introduce a premium schedule based on income exactly patterned after the progressive income tax used by IRS but without the deductions and exemptions. Everyone pays into the pool except the unemployed and homeless."

Obama was on a roll. "We will increase payments to doctors to keep them happy but at the same time create a regional task force of doctors reviewing payments and procedures just as they do at the Mayo Clinic with the critical emphasis on patient care, not doctor and hospital profits."

"You said this is voluntary," Reid said. "What about those who want to keep their own workers insurance plans?"

"That's the beauty," Obama said. "As I said all along, if they like the insurance and doctors they now have, they can keep them."

"My Republican colleagues say the government will run the private carriers out of business," Reid said.

"My Blue Dogs echo the same thing," Pelosi said.

"Screw them," Biden said. "If they think the status quo is so great, let 'em keep it. Let 'em eat their cake. Let's have it out once and for all. Let the people decide what system they like best. Ain't America great!"

The president placed his long legs on the dining room table, folded his arms behind his neck, and smiled.

"I love it, man," Biden bellowed. "Everyone gets what they want."

"Excuse me, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, madam Speaker," Reid said. "I must talk to chairman (Max) Baucus."

"Me, too," Pelosi said. "Can't wait to tell (Minority Leader) John Boehner. I can see him now, doing deep doo doo in his pants."

"More Perrier, Mr. President?" the butler asked.

One could hear fire engine sirens in the background. They weren't outside the White House I discovered sleepily. Just on the street outside my apartment.

I awakened from my dream.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Of Dr.E, Me And Dick Cheney (?)

We call her Dr.E, one of the most remarkable women I have had the privilege of knowing almost exclusively through TMV and one delightful hour-long telephone conversation on her nickle. We share numerous ailments brought about by the scavenging effects of diabetes but if you read her post today it dwarfs my ailments to a mere pittance.

Dr. Clarissa Piniloa Estes in simple terms argues for insurance carriers to drop their nasty policy of denying coverage to patients with pre-existing medical conditions. If nothing else comes out of our national debate on health care reform, this evil practice must be legislated against and banned forever.

Dr.E has a compassion for mankind way beyond my wildest dreams on a good day. I'm just a cynical, washed up old newspaperman. I do know my politics. Consider this prospect:

If all members of Congress only had the health care and insurance coverage Dr. E and I can afford, do you think for one minute this on-going debate -- started by President Truman -- would still be going? I don't think so. Consider this scenario:

Let's say Dick Cheney had his first heart attack as a Congressman under the coverage Dr.E and I now have. His coverage would have been dropped or his premium reset so high it would force him to bankruptcy. Instead, his coverage continued to pay for at three three more heart surgeries and an undisclosed number of relapses. Who knows? Without the health coverage the federal bureaucracy offers, would Cheney suddenly turn champion of -- oh, my god -- a single-payer system?

Preposterous, you say? Not so fast, my friends. Liberals and Cheney bashers suffered apoplexy when he said in interviews he supported same-sex marriage. And why did he buck his president and the conservatives who consider the issue as un-Christian, sinful and every other imagined dastardly deed?

Because one of his daughters is a lesbian. Give the man credit. He saw in his daughter the pains she was suffering as a subject of his peer's public disgrace. If it takes personal experience to enlighten one's view on a hot-button issue, terrific.

My goodness, folks. If Cheney -- the sultan of darkness -- can announce his views on same-sex marriage, why couldn't Congress come together on a reasonable health care plan if we had the power to jerk their current coverage as they have with ours?

Nothing like putting the shoe on the other's foot.

The thing is, Dr.E and I do the best we can coping with what we got. It could be so much better that I hazard to guess.

Undertow Of Today's News

I feel connected with Michael Corleone in Godfather III when he was on the brink of ridding himself from Mafia past, they pull him right back. Take today's news. Please.

Item: One of candidate Barack Obama's agent of change messages was to improve the professionalism of our diplomatic corps. So far, 38 of his first 65 ambassadorial appointments have been political. Among them, Charles H. Rivkin, a Hollywood mogul who contributed $500,000 to Obama's presidential campaign. Rivkin's credentials as Ambassador to France is he once pitted convicted felon Snoop Dog with Jim Henson's Muppets children's show.

Item: Vito Corleone, Michael's father, would roll over in his grave on reading today's news story that 90% of U.S. currency contains traces of cocaine. Study leader Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth said scientists have known for years that paper money can become contaminated with cocaine during drug deals and directly through drug use, such as snorting cocaine through rolled bills. Contamination can also spread to banknotes not involved in the illicit drug culture, because bills are processed in banks' currency-counting machines. Zuo said the incident rate has increased 20% in the past two years. Not to worry, Zuo reports, there's not enough traces of cocaine remaining in the bills to sniff for a buzz.

Item: Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Whip known as "The Hammer," will join the cast of "Dancing With The Stars." DeLay's case for conspiring to violate campaign finance laws in Texas has yet gone to trial. His mug shot when jailed was a classic reversal of most: Hair combed, clean shaven and a smile that would wow the ladies. “This is going to be so much fun. I will need your support,” he announced on his Twitter account. Delay would be the highest profile politician booked by "Stars." No way to tell, but I doubt he could trip the light fantastic as well as the late California Sen. George Murphy who was a terrific dancer in his earlier career in the movies.

Item: This one is truly sad. It is an error repeated far too frequently in what in my childhood was the newspaper I grew up with. In its on-line edition today, The Los Angeles Times offered this teaser: "An occasional serious of editorials and Op-Eds on the crisis confronting California." Oh, for want of a copy editor in today's cutbacks of our declining, once proud newspapers.

Must be one of those days. Change you want doesn't happen. Change you don't expect, does.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At Least Hannity Got One Thing Right

Sean Hannity, one of the conservative commentators on Fox News I usually find repugnant, deserves credit for calling national attention to a tragic scenario that is playing out in California's fertile San Joaquin Valley. The nation's largest bread and fruit basket is experiencing a third year of drought made worse by severe cutbacks in imported water because of federal protection of an endangered species, a tiny minnow-sized fish critical in the ecological life-support system for orcas and several salmon families.

Of course, Hannity has a limited niche audience. At least he is trying to illuminate a severe problem effecting not only the lives of farmers and farm workers in central California but the cost of food for all Americans. It deserves a national debate but is drowned out by the national media's one-at-a-time focus on health care reform with the struggling economy and climate change legislation straggling behind in second and third place of attentive priorities.

But as his style, Hannity frames the issue as fish vs. people and the government is the villain. If only it were that simple the farmers would have received their allotment of water, the second (or eighth, depending whom you believe) highest unemployment rate among the state's 57 counties would drop and everyone would live happily ever after. Unfortunately, we don't live in Hannity's world.

The politics is relatively clear cut. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger has declared the valley counties a disaster area and hopes for $3 million to $4 million a month in extended unemployment benefits and other aid to the targeted cities and counties. The Obama administration has yet to sign off on the request.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the stricken area and listened to the plight from county and city elected officials, state representatives, farmers and laborers. That was June 28. He promised nothing and no directives have been issued from his office on the subject since that time.

The delta smelt, the threatened minnow destined on the Endangered Species list, plug the drains releasing water to the farm lands. As a result, the Westlands Water District serving Mendota, a city in Fresno County, restricted the federal water allotment to farmlands to 10%. One result is planted fields going to rot and the other Mendota's unemployment rate reaching 41%.

But environmental groups involved in this battle hold the upper hand. Here is a sampling from one of the groups:

While falsely blaming modest regulatory protections for "fish populations to the north" for the Central Valley's problems, Representatives Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), neglected to mention the impacts that massive water exports out of the California Delta have had upon the thousands of people that have been employed in the commercial and recreational fishing industries and the coastal and Central Valley communities that depend upon healthy fisheries for their economic health. The closure of recreational and commercial salmon fishing season off California and Oregon this year and in 2008 has had a devastating impact upon coastal communities in both states.

"While they are bitching about fish protections robbing them of water (not true!), the Bureau of Reclamation is preparing now to ship 40,000 acre-feet of Central Valley Project water to Southern California – swimming pools and golf courses," noted Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.

One analyst for an environmental group may have cherry-picked the data and came up with these numbers:

Fresno County had 15.4% unemployment in May with a 9-year average of 10.5%. The average unemployment for all 18 primarily agriculture dependent counties in May was 15.6% which placed Fresno eighth and Imperial County first at 26.8%.

"What this data clearly shows is that unemployment is chronic in Mendota (28.1% average), worsened by the drought, as with all other agriculture dependent counties," the analyst reported.

"The owners of the big farms there are certainly not sharing their profits well with the labor community that serves them. There is much to be done to improve their plight, and it should not include disaster relief from the taxpayers (as requested by the Governor and our Senators)."

For more complete details on this story, try this link to the Fresno Bee, and this one and a third which presents the environmentalists opposition.

Forgive me for stealing a motto from Hannity's network.

I report. You decide.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Myths And Facts About Illegal Worker Health Costs

My friend Maurice and me were talking about the high cost of health care and ways Congress is searching to reduce the inflationary spiral dealing in the trillions of dollars neither one of us could truly comprehend.

"How about hospitals refusing treatment for illegal Mexican workers?" Maurice asked.

"No," I opined. "The courts have ruled everyone is entitled to emergency trauma services."

"Okay," Maurice replied. "Deny them all those other freebies. You know, they're using the hospital emergency wards for hang nails, runny noses and minor stuff like that. Plus free drugs."

"You're onto something there," I said. "But what about those illegals who receive pay checks and pay their taxes like the rest of us?" I asked. "Seems to me there's a difference between them and those illegals who form our shadow economy and are paid in cash."

"Don't care," Maurice said. "You think for one minute you or me will get free medical service if we landed in a Mexican hospital? I don't think so."

We drove in silence until he dropped me off at my apartment. "Let me look into it," I said instead of thanking him for the ride.


What I learned shatters the myth Maurice and me presumed. According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center and other sources listed below:

Illegal immigrants can get emergency care through Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and people with disabilities. But they can't get non-emergency care unless they pay. They are ineligible for most other public benefits.

Data on health care costs for illegal immigrants are sketchy because hospitals and community health centers don't ask about patients' legal status. In California, a 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform put the state's annual cost at $1.4 billion. Similar studies in Colorado and Minnesota in 2005 came up with much smaller estimates: $31 million and $17 million, respectively.

One thing is clear: Undocumented immigrants are driving up the number of people without health insurance. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 59% of the nation's illegal immigrants are uninsured, compared with 25% of legal immigrants and 14% of U.S. citizens. Illegal immigrants represent about 15% of the nation's 47 million uninsured people.

But these statistics scratch only the surface. Because of state budget cuts:

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston plans to deny cancer care to illegal immigrants whose hospital costs estimated by the state comptroller is $1.3 billion.

Oklahoma lawmakers in May restricted illegal immigrants from most public benefits, including health care and education.

Nationally, the cost of health services for illegal immigrants is 2% but in counties with high density illegal immigrants, the cost is as high as 10%.

Steven Camarota of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies says offering non-emergency Medicaid to illegal immigrants would be more expensive than leaving them uninsured and in need of occasional hospital care. In those cases, hospitals lose money, and taxpayers pick up the tab.

"Either you enforce the law and don't have so many illegals, or you shut up about the cost," he says.

At the state and local level, illegal immigrants already cost more in public services such as education and health care than they pay in taxes, the Congressional Budget Office reported recently. In 2000, counties along the Mexican border lost more than $800 million in health care services for which they were not paid; about 25% of that went to care for illegal immigrants, according to a report by the United States/Mexico Border Counties Coalition.

Since 2003, California's San Mateo County has used local tax dollars as well as money from hospitals and non-profit groups to provide health insurance to all low-income children, regardless of immigration status. "These children are in our schools. They're part of our community," says Beverly Thames, spokeswoman for the county health department. "It's just important that they have access to health care."

San Francisco goes further, adding adults at local expense. Some cities, including New York, encourage illegal immigrants to use public services such as health clinics without risking deportation.

For many illegal immigrants, the fear of deportation outweighs the pain of illness or injury, so they live with their afflictions rather than seeking help until their health problems become critical. That makes things worse — for them, for hospitals that eventually treat them, and for taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.

"They're scared to see the doctors," says Genaro Diaz , a legal resident who, at 59, is a father figure to many of the mostly male farmworkers in Benson, North Carolina. "They think they'll send them back to Mexico."

"There simply isn't enough revenue to support the network of services which heretofore has been expected," says Robert Pestronk, executive director of National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

The cost of health care for illegal immigrants consequently is only a bleep on the government's radar screen that faces a $1.8 trillion budget gap by the end of this fiscal year. Still, the illegals are easy marks for the ax-wielding budget-conscious governmental agencies.

I wonder what Maurice thinks about it now.

Related links:

Deficit Plays Into Health Reform -

In hard times, illegal immigrants lose healthcare |

High Cost of Medical Care for Illegal Immigrants

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Little Self Responsibility, Please

I wouldn't go as far as comic/satirist Bill Maher saying the American public is stupid. Rather, a large percentage is gullible as we have seen time and again on the town hall video clips Congressmen are conducting this August recess.

Wrote Maher in The Huffington Post: I’m the bad guy for saying it’s a stupid country, yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. Twenty-four percent could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War. More than two-thirds of Americans don’t know what’s in Roe v. Wade. Two-thirds don’t know what the Food and Drug Administration does.

What I see in what is wistfully described as a health care reform debate is a bunch of angry old white men and women passionately defending the Medicare benefits they believe they are entitled. Your guess is as good as mine how they reached that conclusion.

One piece of evidence is a draft bill in Congress that would reduce $2 billion in Medicare "savings" and shift it to MediCaid.

Not to worry, soothes President Barack Obama at his Portsmouth, New Hampshire, hearing earlier this week. The AARP endorses the administration's plans for health reform, he claimed.


The president was politely repudiated by AARP executives, saying the 40-million members have not judged the plans as of yet but its top brass is working closely on the issue with the White House.

If you can't believe Obama, whom do you trust? I would offer no one, based on the fragmentation of the proposed legislation now in both houses of Congress.

I would take this a step further. I wouldn't trust the outcome of the AARP member polling if the sentiment is close to that we have seen at the town hall meetings. These are the activists, the loud mouths, the ones driven by fear and passion. They are the ones responding to the polls in greater numbers than those whose minds are still open or undecided. Old people are leery of change and are driven to oppose something just like the rest of the population than rising up to challenge the world of health care delivery as we know it.

I'll take it another step. One of the cornerstones of the Obama health reform plan is to offer no copay for preventive medicine screening. That sounds good but will people who will benefit most -- the young and indestructible -- actually partake. The verdict is inconclusive.

It goes to the heart of the problem. That is the American people must take responsibility for their own welfare and stop passing the costs onto others whether covered by government or private insurance.

The health insurance industry is opposed saying some health experts caution that not all preventive services have been proven to save lives, and even fewer can limit health spending. Kaiser Health Plan advocates report:

"In the field of prevention, few areas save a lot of lives and money," Dr. Barnett Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview. While most childhood immunizations and smoking cessation programs are cost-efficient, the answer is less clear for screenings for breast and cervical cancer, he said. He stressed that screening tests such as these can still be worthwhile in saving lives, even though they may not save money over the long run.

It points out a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House bill that the removal of copayments and deductibles will cost Medicare $2.8 billion and Medicaid $7.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Under the House plan, patients could receive free an initial physical exam, diabetes screening tests, blood tests for heart disease, mammography, pap smears, bone mass measurements, flu and pneumonia vaccines, screenings for colon and rectal cancer, and ultrasound screenings for abdominal aortic aneurysm.

The Kaiser report did have the honesty of reporting a Brown University study that the number of women receiving free mammograms fell 8% when they had to pay $12 for screening. Some insurance carriers such as Aetna introduced plans for small employers this year for no copay preventive routine physicals, vision and gynecological exams in addition to well-child visits.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s top lobbying group, opposes the mandate. Spokesman Robert Zirkelbach cited the need to give insurers flexibility in designing benefit packages.

With child obesity and juvenile diabetes becoming close to epidemic proportions, even the most jaundiced observer would agree that early childhood screening and prevention would save billions of dollars in disease-related heart, circulatory, lung and kidney ailments sometimes requiring amputation of one's feet.

But these so-called free preventive programs don't do a damned bit of good of the patient doesn't take responsibility for himself.