Category Archives: Blog

Cheeseheads On Wheels


       phtoto: ron olsen/ 

In what may be a first, a move is underway to make Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin’s official state motorcycle.   Harley, is a Wisconsin-based company.

SB-394,  “…designates the Harley-Davidson as the Wisconsin state motorcycle and requires the Wisconsin Blue
Book to include that information.”

A push is also underway in the state assembly, with AB-596.

However, as an old friend used to say, “You can’t do anything without goring somebody’s ox.”   In this case, the ox appears to be peace and quiet vs. the famous Harley roar.   The group “Noise Free America” is opposing the bill.  “The noise frightens and intimidates people,” George Atwood of Milton said.

Can We Move On Now?

 Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods does one thing very well.  He can hit a golf ball.  That’s it folks.  To the best of my knowledge he has never claimed to be a great thinker, philosopher or moralist.  He has not been nominated for beatification by His Holiness, the Pope.  He is a private citizen, not an elected public official who can be expected to answer to a constituency.

“Oh” but you say, “He should be setting a standard for others to follow!”  Well, maybe, but hasn’t this been taken a bit too far?   It seems as though half the professional athletes in America are, or have been, on one drug or another.   Does anybody get into the pros without using steroids or some other “performance enhancing” drug?   And do you really think other athletes don’t fool around?   Give me a break.  The only difference between Tiger Woods and any number of others, is that he got caught.

The man hits a golf ball and endorses products for a living.  He does not represent the second coming.  He may love women, but at least he appears to be drug free.  He hasn’t promoted dog fighting or been charged with assault.  He didn’t carry a gun into the locker room at Inverness.

The degree to which the mainstream press has continued to chase and promote this story, eyes bulging and drool dripping from their chins,  only exemplifies how badly our national news product has deteriorated.

We celebrate superficiality, mediocrity and anything, absolutely anything, that can be tied to human sexuality, making it increasingly difficult to determine where the tabloid press ends and the mainstream begins.   As a consequence, all of it, the tabloid and mainstream, is beginning to look like one big muddy river.

We have found the lowest common denominator.  It is us.

The man hits a golf ball for a living.   Yes, this was a story, but  there are more important issues out there.  Get over it and move on.

Alexander Haig Dies

Alexander Haig

   photo: u.s. dept. of defense   

News of the death of Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, prompted memories of Haig’s statement on the day Mr. Reagan was shot.   “As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president,”  he said.   I remember wondering why he would be in charge when clearly the VP was next in line to Reagan.

Haig, later wrote that it was a bad word choice prompted by the heat of the moment.   Since he was actually fourth in line to the President, the statement made him look like a power-hungry politician, an image he’d never live down.

Beyond that, Haig will be remembered for stepping in as White House Chief of Staff for Richard Nixon, when H.R. Haldeman was forced to step down during the Watergate scandal.

It’s been written that the country owes General Haig a great debt of gratitude for holding the government together during the final chaotic months of the Nixon Administration.

Haig, served under three presidents, Nixon, Ford and Reagan and ran for president himself in 1988.  A four-star general of the Army, Alexander Haig died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.  He was 85.

A Return To The Two Party System?

 DNC 2000

photo: ron olsen/ 

There are signs the Democrats might be getting back into the game by growing a collective backbone and taking control of the United States Senate with the majority they were given by the American people.  But is it possible?  Are they about to finally stop what has become an ongoing tragic and painful exhibition of mousy knuckling under to minority Republican bully boys, representing corporate interests and a base that denies our separation of church and state while they eagerly look forward to being swept up in the “Rapture.”

Have Senate Democrats finally broken through their inside the beltway fog and recognized the potential for being hammered in the mid-terms if they fail to represent their constituents?

It took them long enough to get here.  Our government is broken.  Our Constitutional Republic, battered and bloody is down on the mat.  Hopefully, God willing,  it is not down for the count.

The tipping point on beginning the job of restoring our political process may have been reached.

The first half of setting the scales back into balance may have been the decision by the now totally politicized and conservative dominated Supreme Court of the United States.   It was a sad day when the Court, led by George W. Bush nominee John G. Roberts Jr., decided corporations have the same rights as citizens, that corporations can throw their millions and even billions behind a given political candidate in the U.S., even if the corporations in question happen to be multi-nationals.

The high court’s decision means it will be “we the people” gathering up our nickles, dimes and dollars in an effort to push back against the millions that corporate interests have to support (buy) candidates of their choosing.  If that isn’t an obvious enough blow against our democratic process then consider the ongoing health insurance monopoly that threatens to further erode our economic well being.  A monopoly that continues to be protected by an anti-trust exemption the Congress refuses to do anything about.

Monopoly breeds arrogance.   That may be what completed the tipping point process, knocking the scales so far out of balance that even the worst of the worst among the self-serving on Capitol Hill had to sit up and take notice.

It was Anthem Blue Cross (Wellpoint) of California announcing they were raising their rates to their most vulnerable customers, those not included in any group plan,  by 39%.  They were going to do it Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says, not because they need the money, but because they can.  In other words, sheer  arrogance and greed.

And the reason they can?   It’s because they have no real competition and inadequate oversight.   In the middle of what is our worst economy since the Great Depression.

It was so outrageous that the government finally did its job and interceded on behalf of the American people.  Wellpoint, agreed to delay the monster rate hike for two months while the government looks into the insurance company’s motivation.  Okay fine, but Secretary Sebelius has already indicated their profits are huge and their motivation is nothing but greed.  At least Health and Human Services seems to be paying attention.

A government that represents the people.   It’s a fascinating concept in a country with a Supreme Court that has given corporate interests control of the political process.

Trouble is, when it comes to health care, laissez faire does not work.  It only gets people killed.

The question of course, is simple:  Will this democracy killing nonsense be enough to shake Senate Democrats into action in spite of the millions they’ve taken from corporate interests?   Will they finally stand up to the Republican bully boys and say, “enough.”

There may be hope.   18 Democrats in the Senate  have indicated their willingness to get behind a public health care option and they’ve come up with a way to do it without the need for the 60-vote “supermajority.”   Apparently, they can do it with something called “reconciliation,” which will get parts of their health care reform plan passed with only 51 votes.  The White House says that if the Senate gets it done, Mr. Obama will back the effort.

It could be a first step toward restoring a balance to the political process in America.   It could mark a return to the two party system.  Remember that?

From Hell To Hollywood

An exhibit of photos taken by my old friend Nick Ut of the AP has opened in Orange County.   You may remember Nick being awarded the Pulitzer for an image he captured in 1972 of an injured little girl running down a road in Vietnam after being badly burned by napalm.  The picture became iconic of the Vietnam War.

Years ago, I was covering the O.J. Simpson civil trial in Santa Monica, when Nick showed up with someone he wanted me to meet.  It was Kim Phuc, the little girl in the award winning photo.  Even then, some 25 years later, I saw her face and knew exactly who she was.  That photo Nick took remains among the most memorable images of the war.  For me, a child of the 60’s, meeting Kim Phuc was to say the least, impactful.  I will forever appreciate having been given the opportunity to meet her.

Following his work as a combat photographer, Nick went on to practice his art here in the Los Angeles area.   Some of it is now on display at the Nguoi Viet Daily News building in Westminster’s “Little Saigon.” Click here for more photos on Ted Soqui’s blog.

Nick Ut

Peter Arnett, Kieu Chinh, David Hume Kinnerly and Nick Ut

(photo courtesy of Ted Soqui)

Daryl Gates Hospitalized

Daryl Gates Book

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates is hospitalized with a serious illness.

“Chief Charlie Beck informed the police commission during its Tuesday meeting that he had visited the former LAPD chief in the hospital over the weekend. Beck said Gates, 83, had a “very serious malady.” He did not describe the nature of Gates’ illness.

“I ask everyone to keep him in heir prayers,” Beck said.” –LA Times

Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department for 14 years, Gates was at the helm during the infamous Rodney King beating incident and then later, when the Los Angeles riots broke out.   Remembered for his verbal sparring with Mayor Tom Bradley, he eventually testified in federal court that the four officers charged in the beating incident should have restrained themselves and used a “swarm” technique to subdue Mr. King.

Gates is credited with helping to change the course of modern policing with the creation of “SWAT” teams.

“Gates is considered the father of SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics), who established the specialized unit in order to deal with hostage rescue and extreme situations involving armed and dangerous suspects. Ordinary street officers, with light armament, limited weapons training and little instruction on group fighting techniques, had shown to be ineffective in dealing with snipers, bank robberies carried out by heavily armed persons and other high-intensity situations. In 1965, Officer John Nelson came up with the idea to form a specially trained and equipped unit to respond to and manage critical situations while minimizing police casualties.

As an inspector, Gates approved this idea. He formed a small select group of volunteer officers. The first SWAT team, which Gates had originally wanted to name “Special Weapons Attack Team,” was born LAPD SWAT, D-Platoon of the Metro Division. This first SWAT unit was initially constituted as 15 teams of four men each, for a total staff of 60. These officers were given special status and benefits, but in return they had to attend monthly trainings and serve as securities for police facilities during episodes of civil unrest. SWAT was copied almost immediately by most US police departments, and is now used by law enforcement agencies throughout the world.”  –Wikipedia

The LA Times reports that Gates retired from the LAPD following the riots in 1992.

Going To Haiti For Bragging Rights

An interesting piece by Marc Lacey and Ian Urbina in the New York Times questions the motivation of some missionaries involved in the Haitian relief effort.  The Times reports on a line between some of the new arrivals and those who have been there for a while.

“Dale Winslette, 51, a volunteer with Give Me Shelter Ministries in Shalimar, Fla., which has been providing food and medical and dental care in Haiti for the past four years, said there were many missionaries who were mostly interested in returning to their churches with grand stories of good works.

“These people are so zealous to get out there and say, ‘Look what I did; look at these kids I saved,’ ” he said.” –NY Times

Bye, Bye, Bayh

Sen. Evan Bayh

Noteworthy this morning is the news that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, has decided not to seek re-election.  Oh sure, another “top” Taliban commander has been captured, Secretary of State Clinton is having nasty words with the Iranians and Kim Jong Il is throwing himself a “king- size birthday party,” but the story about Evan Bayh of Indiana,  is the one that grabbed my attention.Evan Bayh is a popular Democrat.  A guy with a future,  just the kind of politico the Dems need to keep around.   He’s leaving, he says,  because he’s fed up with the inability of the Senate to get beyond political bickering and do what’s best for the country.  Not that the country’s in any trouble or anything.

For me the story about Evan Bayh is a red flag.  Obama came in with a promise of hope.  Evan Bayh’s voluntary departure is a sign that hope is rapidly running out.

Let’s take stock:  First came the proclamation from Ralph Nader that “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.”   More recently, it was economist Paul Krugman who wrote that we’re “doomed.”  And now Evan Bayh is turning in his parking pass to the millionaire’s club and going back to Indiana.

Here in California, we’re looking at a budget deficit of nearly $21 billion and our politically deadlocked state legislators can’t agree on whether it should be tuna or chicken salad for lunch.  The City of Los Angeles, is facing a budget shortfall of  $212 million with joblessness running at 15%.  The unemployment rate in Michigan is near 15%.   If you live in Tennessee, forget about sending the kids out looking for work.   The unemployment rate for teens in the volunteer state is running around 29%.

When the unemployment insurance runs out people will start doing whatever is necessary to feed their families.  What will the tipping point be?  Are some already there?

A new USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates Americans are fed up with Washington.  By a margin of 3 to 1 we feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.  And still, according to the poll, we remain optimistic about the future.

“Even so, confidence that there will be better times ahead — and that the classic American dream endures — hasn’t been extinguished. It’s not even at its low ebb.” -USA Today

The government appears to be broken beyond repair but better times are just around the corner.

This is what happens when an entire country starts taking anti-depressants and stops reading newspapers.  Just sprinkle a little fairy dust in the air and Tinker Bell will dance in to save us all.

Rearranging Chairs On A Ship That’s Going Down

 USS Pendleton Sinks

Our standards are sinking.  This simple fact struck me years ago as a reporter covering the crime beat in arraignment court here in Los Angeles.  The judge called a case.  A young man got up wearing tennis shoes, jeans and a t-shirt with writing on the back that read “Speedway Kicks Ass!”   “This idiot’s going to jail” I thought to myself, astonished at his naivete.

Things have only gotten worse.

Our acceptable national uniform is now a baggy t-shirt (often with someone’s advertising on it), shorts that end just above the knee (often cut off and raggedy) and tennis shoes or sandals.  The shorts, by the way, apparently originated with former inmates from the LA County jail, who kept their jail-issued pants when released and wanted their homies to know they had been in the joint, so they cut them off and wore them as shorts.   The”style” was later adopted by the NBA and much of young America.  So the entire country is now emulating gang bangers.  Beyond that, if you rank among the coolest of the cool and the hippest of the hip,  you wear your pants down around your crotch enabling butt crack visibility from the rear.  What a magnificent sartorial legacy we bear.   What an outstanding picture we paint for the rest of the world to see as we rush onward in search of our lowest common denominator.

And there’s more.

Yesterday, I was waiting in line at a local bookstore.  There were four clerks behind the counter.  One, a big kid who appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties, was wearing a jersey.  The front of the jersey was emblazoned with the letters “AIG.”  You know, AIG?   The company that helped wreck the nation’s economy?  The company we all had to bail out with our tax dollars because it was “too big to fail?”  That company.

“Anybody but that guy” I thought to myself as I waited in line, so naturally, he was the clerk I ended up with.  Murphy’s law strikes again.  Damn you, Murphy.

So there I was, face to face and about to do business with a “sales representative” wearing a jersey bearing not the name of his company, but the name of what is arguably one of the most disliked companies in America.   Do you really think I could keep my mouth shut?

“Does that stand for “AIG,” the company that helped wreck our economy? I asked.   “Ya, they sponsored this soccer team” he said, as he turned and showed me the emblem of Manchester United on his back.  I nodded in acknowledgement.  My blood pressure had already gone up and I decided the situation was worth nothing more at that point.   I did though, wish him “good luck with the jersey,” as I paid for my book and left the counter.  I figured if the kid was that naive, somebody had better say something.

Or maybe it’s me.  Maybe it’s okay to just throw on any old thing that happens to have come out of the dryer?

We used to say that first appearances are all important and that “clothes make the man.”   The “make the man” thing would now be considered sexist, so it would have to be updated to “clothes make the person.”  Unless the person can’t afford better clothing, in which case you shouldn’t consider what he or she is wearing at all, because that will indicate your bias and shortsightedness at not being able to see someone’s worth beyond the clothing they can afford and have decided to wear, which may have nothing at all to do with their intellect and ability.  Consider the frumpy clothing Einstein wore.

Things can become somewhat twisted around, can’t they?

And so dear friends, I leave you with this thought:  Speedway Kicks Ass!

A Valentine’s Day Story Worth Reading


The usual Valentine’s Day fare in newspapers and on television includes stories about the sharp and sudden rise in the cost of roses, where to buy the best candy, naughty nighties, singing greeting cards, a special dinner out for that special someone and so forth.  It’s Valentine’s Day ad nauseam.  Deja vu all over again as the American sheeple fall victim to one of the mightiest marketing scams ever devised.

Well, finally, a reporter has written a story worthy of reading on Valentine’s Day.  Kathy Kristof at the Los Angeles Times has kicked one right between the uprights with “Love is all you need?  Get real.”  Subtitile:  “Love me, love my credit score.”

Kristof writes:

 “No one is saying that money is everything. Romance, common interests, shared values and friends are important for the survival of a marriage too.

But couples must understand that money carries far more meaning than the simple things it can buy. How you handle money can telegraph how you feel about power, personal responsibility, charity and family.  And these are the issues that can pull a marriage apart.” -LA Times

This should be required reading for anyone considering marriage.

Just how serious the business of marriage really is can be pointed out by the presence of a google ad for prenuptial attorneys at the bottom of the page carrying Kristof’s story on the Time’s website.   “Low Flat Fees for Prenuptial Agreement Drafting and Review” the ad says.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Oh, and happy Valentine’s DayDon’t forget to pick up the flowers and candy.

(Not that it matters, but Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius in AD 496 to honor several martyred saints who apparently held the name Valentinus, and had nothing to do with romantic love.  The whole thing got twisted around and connected to romantic love and gift giving somewhere in the high middle ages.  The mass marketing of paper valentines started in the early 1800’s in England.)

Keith Olbermann And The Cheyenne River Sioux

Keith Olbermann

It was looking bad for the Cheyenne River Sioux.  Their reservation,  which stretches over two counties in north central South Dakota, had been hit by an ice storm followed by a blizzard.    More than 1,500 homes were without power, some 14,000 people had no water and the Tribe’s emergency fund had been drained.  All this, in an already poverty-stricken area where unemployment is running around 80%.

Then Keith Olbermann got involved and things started turning around.   Keith told his viewers what was going on (did a bit of a rant about what was happening right here on our own ground in the U.S.) and said they could send donations to the South Dakota Community Foundation.

“The effect was immediate, Community Foundation president Bob Sutton said Thursday.

He was attending a function in Sioux Falls on Tuesday evening, he said. His Blackberry was set up to buzz him with an e-mail every time someone made an online donation to the Cheyenne River effort.

“Within the first 20 minutes, I had hundreds of e-mails on my Blackberry,” he said. “It was unbelievable. I had to go out in the lobby and check it; I thought something was wrong because it just kept buzzing.”

At the start of the day Thursday, the fund had grown to $220,000. By Thursday night, it was more than $250,000. In the 15 minutes he spent talking to a reporter, Sutton said 16 contributions came in, ranging from $10 to $500, from all over the country.” -Argus Leader


If you feel inclined to help, you can-


Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe/2010 Disaster Account

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman’s Office

Attn: Ice Storm Emergency Fund

PO Box 590

2001 Main Street (Tribal Offices)

Eagle Butte, SD 57625


Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman’s Office

Attn: Ice Storm Emergency Supplies  PO Box 590

2001 Main Street (Tribal Offices)

Eagle Butte, SD 57625

Los Angeles: Preserving A Sense Of Place

 The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Century Plaza Hotel won’t be falling to the wrecker’s ball.  Martha Groves writes that the hotel’s owner and preservationists have cut a deal to save the historic hotel-

“As of now, plans call for “sensitive rehabilitation” of the hotel to preserve 400 hotel rooms while converting those on the top floors to 45 condos. Meeting space would be reduced, and a slightly smaller ballroom would replace the existing one. The developer plans to propose other buildings on the site to the rear and/or sides of the hotel and a low-scale structure with some retail shops or restaurants to enliven the front of the hotel.”  -LA Times

It’s a hopeful sign that another piece of older Los Angeles is being saved.   It’s wonderful for a place to have a sense of history and tradition.  Fact is, the city has a lot going for it even with the apparent ongoing push by developers to tear things down.  We still have Olvera Street, Hollywood and its famous sign, Broadway and the old downtown area, LA City Hall, Pantages and the other vaudeville/movie palaces, Musso and Frank Grill, the Original Pantry, Philippe’s, Pink’s, the old Herald Examiner building, Chinatown, the old downtown post office, Union Station and now the Century Plaza.  Too bad the original Schwab’s,  Chasen’s and Bob Cobb’s  old Brown Derby are all gone.

Original Schwab's Drugstore

               photo: ron olsen/

Schwab’s Pharmacy, was located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard.   In a case of art imitating reality, the pharmacy was used as a location for the classic film “Sunset Boulevard.”  In reality, its lunch counter was a popular hangout for young actors.  It is also the legendary spot where “sweater girl”  Lana Turner is said to have been discovered.   That may or may not be true.   Another version has Turner being discovered by the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter at the Top Hat Cafe on the southeast corner of Sunset and McCadden Place.  The publisher referred her to Zeppo Marx, and from there….well, she was off to the races.  Or so the story goes.

As is sometimes the case in Hollywood, the truth slips through the cracks as the image becomes reality.   Consequently, I’m not sure where Lana Turner was discovered.  I do know it was a popular pharmacy for the movie set, many of whom lived in the hills nearby.  They liked Schwab’s because the pharmacy had a delivery service which eliminated the need for the rich and famous to show up in person or send someone in to pick up their prescriptions.    That’s the straight scoop from the people who worked there.  I know, because I was there on October 22, 1983,  the day Schwab’s closed its doors for the last time.   I was doing the story for KABC-TV.   I snapped the photo above just before they locked the doors and went home.  Five years later, Schwab’s was demolished.

Chasen’s (Beverly Hills) was opened in 1936 by vaudevillian Dave Chasen on the advice of his friend Frank Capra and was called “Chasen’s Southern Pit.”  “New Yorker” Editor Harold Ross helped finance the operation.  “It was nothing more than a shack, but quickly became well known for its chili and was soon a favorite among Hollywood actors at the time. At first, Capra had to loan Chasen his silverware for the restaurant’s operation.[1] Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, W.C. Fields, James Cagney, Clark Gable, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were customers.” -Wikipedia

I’ve read that Alfred Hitchcock had his own booth.

As for the Derby, legend has it that Bob Cobb, a first cousin to baseball great Ty Cobb, invented the “Cobb Salad” for his diet conscious superstar clientele.    LA has a lot to offer, you just have to dig a little.  While the digging continues, it might be nice if our City leaders could think a little more about renovation as opposed to annihilation.  Just a thought.

Original Brown Derby Restaurant

                          photo: chalmers butterfield

(Trivia note:  Brown Derby founder Bob Cobb, should not be confused with the maestro by the same name of “Seinfeld” fame.  Also, I realize there are other noteworthy spots in the city and surrounding area.  Feel free to add to the list by clicking on “leave a comment.”)

Van Nuys Bumped As Busiest Airport

Apparently Van Nuys no longer has the busiest general aviation airport in the nation.  According to a piece in the Arizona Republic, the title now belongs to the Phoenix – Deer Valley Airport.

“We are ranked Number 1 for the busiest general aviation airport in the country,” said Gary Mascaro, Deer Valley Airport manager, who attributed the increase in business in part to flight schools.

The Valley’s general airport outperformed its longtime competitor, San Fernando Valley-based Van Nuys Airport, which had comparable landings and takeoffs.

That airport in California averaged more than 400,000 landings and takeoffs in 2005, when it clinched the world’s busiest general aviation airport.” -AZ Republic

An earlier story in the Los Angeles Times, points to an over-all drop in passenger traffic at Los Angeles Area Airports in 2009.  The decline is believed to have been caused by high fuel prices and the recession.



Paul Krugman thinks we’re “doomed.”  Here’s a bit from his column.   Click on the link at the bottom to read the rest.

“I’m with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.” -Paul Krugman in the New York Times

Blue Cross Opens Door On Regulation?

Washington, DC — “Blue Cross has opened an opportunity for lawmakers and regulators with its premium hikes of up to 39% in California, said Consumer Watchdog. In the face of questions from the White House and an investigation by California’s insurance commissioner, federal and state lawmakers should act to regulate health insurance premiums and force insurers to defend every increase.

In recent letters to policyholders announcing yearly premium hikes of up to 39% and perhaps higher, Anthem Blue Cross of California says it is “necessary to adjust our rates to cover the escalating cost of health care.” Consumer Watchdog, noting that a 39% increase is 1,500% above the rate of consumer inflation, said the insurer was simply gouging policyholders to raise profits in the face of a sinking customer base.”  -Consumer Watchdog